HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania officials have announced a host of new temporary restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, including a ban on indoor dining in restaurants and a pause in school sports.
Officials announced the new mitigation measures Thursday afternoon.
Here's the short version:
- No indoor dining
- No K-12 sports, practices or extracurricular activities
- No indoor gyms
- No indoor entertainment facilities
- Other businesses, including retail and salons, operate at 50% capacity
- Indoor gatherings limited to 10 people (churches/religious services exempt)
- Outdoor gatherings limited to 50 people
The restrictions, explained in further detail below, will take effect Saturday at 12:01 a.m. and continue until 8 a.m. on January 4.
All in-person indoor dining at businesses in the retail food services industry, including, but not limited to, bars, restaurants, breweries, wineries, distilleries, social clubs, and private catered events is prohibited, according to a governor's office news release.
Outdoor dining, take-out food service, and take-out alcohol sales are permitted and may continue, subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law.
Wolf told reporters at a Thursday news conference that he would try to work with the state General Assembly to provide help to restaurants.
All in-person retail and similar businesses serving the public may only operate at up to 50% of the maximum capacity stated on the applicable certificate of occupancy, except as limited by existing orders to a smaller capacity limit.
Indoor operations at gyms and fitness facilities are prohibited. Outdoor facilities and outdoor classes can continue.
All in-person businesses in the entertainment industry serving the public within a building or indoor defined area, including, but not limited to, theaters, concert venues, museums, movie theaters, arcades, casinos, bowling alleys, private clubs, and all other similar entertainment, recreational or social facilities, are prohibited from operation.
All sports at K-12 public schools, nonpublic schools, private schools and clubs, travel, recreational, intermural, and intramural sports are paused. The Pennsylvania Principals Association is recommending a delay to the start of the winter sports season.
In-person extracurricular school activities will be suspended. The extracurricular activities may be held virtually. This includes, but is not limited to, attendance at or participation in activities such musical ensembles, school plays, student council, clubs, and school dances.
Collegiate and professional sports are allowed to continue, but without any spectators in attendance.
New gathering limitations will also take effect Saturday morning. Indoor gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people, and outdoor gatherings will be limited to no more than 50.
Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other places of congregate worship are specifically excluded from the indoor gathering limitations.
“Each of the last two days we have reported the highest number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr. Rachel Levine said. “In the past week, we have reported close to 1,100 new deaths from COVID-19 across Pennsylvania. The virus continues to strain our health care systems and the dramatic rise in cases among all age groups, including among school-age children, is alarming. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been more than 37,500 cases among children age 5 to 18, yet 9,500 of those cases occurred in the past two weeks.”
"We all hoped it would not come to this," Wolf said during Thursday's news conference. "The current state of the spread will not allow us to wait."
Not everyone believes it had to come to this. The PA Chamber of Business and Industry President Gene Barr issued a statement, saying "it will certainly wreak economic devastation upon numerous businesses," going on to say the hardest hit has been the restaurant industry. Governor Wolf acknowledged that and vowed to support them.
"We need to make sure these business owners and their employees have the help that they deserve and need to weather this pandemic," Wolf said.
Some are applauding the governor's move. The state's largest healthcare union released a statement praising the governor, saying hospitals are running out of beds and running short on staff, threatening the ability for everyone to get the care they need.
The news comes as hospitalizations continue to rise in the state. The state government's dashboard says more than 5,800 patients with COVID-19 are in the hospital, and more than 1,200 of those are in intensive care. The trend in the 14-day moving average of number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by nearly 4,400 since the end of September.
Wolf warned of the strain on the state's healthcare system in a news conference Monday afternoon. COVID-19 will overwhelm hospitals and the state's health care system if cases continue to rise, Wolf said Monday.
Pennsylvania health officials reported Thursday more than 11,900 new cases, bringing the state's total number of confirmed infections to 457,289. State health officials also reported Thursday 248 more deaths, pushing the death toll past 12,000.
Wolf himself said Wednesday he had tested positive for COVID-19. He said he had no symptoms and was feeling well.
Statewide percent positivity for the week of November 27-December 3 stood at 14.4%.