Gov. Tom Wolf today signed an executive order implementing tighter restrictions for indoor dining and gathering.
All restaurants will be limited to 25 percent capacity for indoor dining and indoor gatherings will be restricted to 25 people. Additionally, bars (and restaurants) may only serve alcohol indoors with sit-down meals, bar service is prohibited. To-go cocktails are still permitted.
All businesses are mandated to telework whenever possible and the limit on outdoor gatherings remains at 250 people. Restaurants may still utilize outdoor seating, but nightclubs and bars that don’t serve food will essentially have to shut down.
“During the past week, we have seen an unsettling climb in new COVID-19 cases,” Wolf said. “COVID-19 cases peaked in Pennsylvania on April 9 with 2,000 new cases. If we don’t act now, medical experts are projecting that this new surge in cases could soon eclipse the peak in April.
“These COVID-19 restrictions worked during the first wave in the spring, and will work again if we all do our part,” he continued. “Thank you to every Pennsylvanian for your continued patience and support.”
To back Wolf’s announcement of heading towards a new surge, PA Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, announced that as of 12 am today, there were 994 new cases reported in the state.
“It is extremely challenging for those businesses and we certainly realize that,” Levine said. “This is where the virus is spreading now and where we have to take action. We cannot be Florida, we can not let the state go on letting the virus burn.”
Both Wolf and Levine pointed to the case surges in places like Florida, Arizona and Texas as examples of what can happen if these steps aren’t taken quickly.
“The objective is to keep people safe,” Wolf said. “One of those means is to make sure our healthcare system is not overwhelmed, and I think we did that in the spring. If we don’t do anything now, if we do what Arizona and Texas and Florida did, we’ll see our system get overwhelmed like they did.”
According to multiple reports, the hospital systems in all three states are nearing or at capacity, with some Houston hospitals being forced to treat COVID patients in the emergency room while they wait for ICU beds to open. The New York Times reported that Florida set a new record for deaths in a single day with 132 on Tuesday, and that local officials in Texas are putting refrigerated trucks on standby to increase morgue space.
“This whole process we’ve had an array of choices, and they’ve all been bad,” Wolf said. “We’ve got to make the decision of what is less bad. We would be in a worse position if we allowed what happened in Florida. We’re trying to mitigate that. If we do nothing, well be looking a lot more like Florida than Pennsylvania when we acted decisively early on.”
Wolf added that these new restrictions are being put in place now, in part, to try to stop this new surge before the start of the new school year.
“We’re trying to stop the virus in its tracks,” he said. “If we do that, we don’t have to be as focused when return to school. I don’t want to wait four weeks, I want to act now so we don’t have to do Draconian things in the fall.”
When asked if he would shut down school in the fall if the numbers do not improve, he said he would, adding that if the numbers didn’t improve he expects teachers and parents would make the choice for him by refusing to go back to school.
“We’ve got to take decisive action so parents can feel comfortable and confident in going back to school,” he said.