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Pennsylvania puts new restrictions on bars, restaurants amid COVID-19 surge

Dominic Lombardo, owner of Domenicos restaurant, looks over the bar area, with the barstools separated, Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Cranberry Township, Pa.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania officials handed down new restrictions for bars and restaurants statewide as COVID-19 cases surge, again.

Gov. Tom Wolf described the rise in positive tests seen over the last few weeks as “unsettling,” warning residents that a second, worse wave of infections appears on the horizon.

“When we hit our peak on April 9, we had nearly 2,000 new cases that day, with other days’ cases hovering around 1,000,” he said. “Medical experts looking at the trajectory we are on now are projecting that this new surge could soon eclipse the April peak. With our rapid case increases we need to act again now.”

The new rules, effective Thursday, limit indoor capacity to 25 percent, ban bar seating and only allow alcohol sales in conjunction with food service. Take out and delivery orders remain unchanged, including to-go liquor sales. Indoor gatherings must be limited to 25 people and outdoor events are limited to 250 people.

“The actions the governor and I are taking today are designed to be surgical and thus precise to prevent from repeating the cycle we saw in the spring,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine. “We have gained a great deal of experience since the start of this outbreak and have learned from best practices from other states as well as counties right here in Pennsylvania.”

The administration cited modeling performed by Dr. David Rubin, a general pediatrician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, that tracks virus transmission in real time across more than 500 counties nationwide. The lab considers social distancing, population density, daily temperatures and humidity in its projections.

“Over the last few weeks, public health reporting and our team’s modeling work have uncovered incontrovertible evidence that the virus is sweeping quickly into the Northeast region of the United States from the West and South – where there has been a failure in some states to practice vigilance in masking and social distancing – and that it has already begun its resurgence in Pennsylvania,” Rubin said.

The announcement comes after the Department of Health has reported more than 800 new cases during five of the last seven days, with 994 added to the state’s nearly 98,000 total on Wednesday alone.

“We can halt this momentum in its tracks,” Rubin said. “Gov. Wolf’s measures will help stop the continued spread of the virus into Pennsylvania and its surrounding states, which would threaten the reopening of schools and our economy in the coming months.”

The latest restrictions will further strain a decimated industry, said the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, which called for a bailout in the face of ongoing uncertainty.

“At a time when the industry is already struggling, this makes matters worse,” Executive Director Chuck Moran said. “Our members are paying their yearly licensing fees to the state, but not being allowed to operate fully. In addition, business loans, rent, utilities, and industry vendors still must be paid out of reduced revenue.”

House Majority Leader Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, decried the restrictions as more of the same “overreach and misuse of power” legislative Republicans have been fighting against since the pandemic hit in March.

“The irreversible impact of his countless, confusing orders cannot be overstated,” he said. “Gov. Wolf’s decision today will close the doors of some small businesses forever and devastate the livelihoods of so many Pennsylvanians who were just beginning to feel hopeful for the future.”

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