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State moves closer to yellow under new order; restaurants face new limits

HARRISBURG — A jump in the number of coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania led Gov. Tom Wolf and state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to impose new restrictions on certain kinds of businesses.

The changes goes into effect at midnight July 16.

The rising number of cases is largely in the southwest portion of the state, but is noticeable in other counties as well, influencing the decision for statewide mitigation efforts for bars and restaurants, gatherings and telework.

“During the past week, we have seen an unsettling climb in new COVID-19 cases,” Wolf said. “When we hit our peak on April 9, we had nearly two thousand new cases that day with other days’ cases hovering around 1,000. 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 state has identified three catalysts for case increases:

¯ Some Pennsylvanians have been ignoring mask-wearing requirements and social distancing when they are visiting Pennsylvania bars and restaurants. There they are unknowingly spreading or picking up the virus.

¯ Out-of-state travel both by Pennsylvanians returning from travel to hotspot states, and travelers visiting our commonwealth from those hotspots.

¯ A lack of national coordination has resulted in states in the south and west not committing to social distancing.

“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 Dr. 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 Wolf administration believes these 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.

Eateries — including bars, restaurants and nightclubs — will see the biggest changes.

All businesses in the retail food services industry, including restaurants, wineries, breweries, private clubs, and bars, are permitted to provide take-out and delivery sales of food, as well as dine-in service in both indoor and outdoor seating areas. However, occupancy is now limited to 25 percent of the stated fire-code maximum for indoor dining, or 25 persons for a discrete indoor event or gathering in a restaurant. The maximum occupancy limit includes workers.

Food service businesses are prohibited from conducting operations if the facility does not offers sit-down, dine-in meals or serve take-out sales of alcoholic beverages.

All service must be at a table or booth. Bar service is prohibited. Alcohol only can be served for on-premises consumption when in the same transaction as a meal.

Take-out sales of alcohol for the purposes of off-site consumption are permitted subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law.

Outdoor areas — tables or counter seats that do not line up to a bar or food service area — also may be used for customer seating.

Social distancing, masking, and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons.

All nightclubs, as defined by the Clean Indoor Air Act, are prohibited from conducting operations.

Other events and gatherings indoors are limited to 25 persons. Outdoor events and gatherings of more than 250 persons are prohibited.

Again, the maximum occupancy limit includes staff.

Small gatherings of friends in the backyard or at a local park are permitted and children and families are encouraged to responsibility take advantage of one or more of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or other local outdoor fitness options, including at local gyms that are following social distancing protocols.

Other changes impact where workers will do their jobs. Unless not possible, all businesses are required to conduct their operations in whole or in part remotely through individual teleworking of their employees in the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which they do business.

Where telework is not possible, employees may conduct in-person business operations, provided that the businesses fully comply with all substantive aspects of the business safety order, the worker safety order, and the masking order.

Gyms and fitness facilities, while permitted to continue indoor operations, are directed to prioritize outdoor physical fitness activities. Again, masking requirements and social distancing requirements are to be observed.

Businesses and individuals in violation of these orders, issued pursuant to the authority granted to the Governor and the Secretary of Health under the law, including the Pennsylvania Disease Control and Prevention Law, could be subject to fines, business closure or other applicable enforcement measures.

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Bellefonte), who represents a portion of Mifflin County, responded to the latest restrictions with a statement attacking Wolf for failing to consult with the legislative branch.

“The governor’s continued overreach and misuse of power is exactly why the House began the bipartisan process this week of amending the Pennsylvania Constitution to rein in the governor’s emergency authority and ensure people’s voices are not silenced during times of crisis,” he said. “Our system of government is dependent upon ensuring no one person has unchecked authority. Decisions like those made today should require input and thoughtful deliberation. The people’s representatives have been and continue to stand at the ready to work with the governor to develop a cohesive, reasonable plan to help Pennsylvanians weather this pandemic.”

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