COVID-19 Update, Dec. 10: Gov. Wolf orders 3 week closure of indoor dining, gyms, school activities to slow virus surge

By Mike McGann, Editor, the Times @mikemcgannpa

Gov. Tom Wolf announced a series of new restrictions Thursday afternoon for the three weeks starting at midnight Friday, including a band on indoor dining at restaurants, closure of gyms, music venues, museums, halting of extra-curricular activities and sports in schools and limiting indoor gatherings through Jan. 4, 2021, with the hope of stopping a surge of COVID-19 in the commonwealth.

“Today I am announcing additional, temporary COVID-19 protective mitigation measures in the commonwealth,” said Gov. Wolf during a press conference. “With these measures in place, we hope to accomplish three goals: First, stop the devastating spread of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. Second, keep our hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed. And third, help Pennsylvanians get through the holiday season – and closer to a widely available vaccine – as safely as possible. This is a bridge to a better future in Pennsylvania.”

Wolf said he understood that restaurant owners would suffer through no fault of their own and called on Congress to pass aid to restaurants and bars to help owners and employees get through the pandemic — but he said he needed to take action before the state’s hospitals get overwhelmed.

“We know that COVID-19 thrives in places where people gather together,” Gov. Wolf said. “Therefore, these mitigation measures target high-risk environments and activities and aim to reduce the spread of this devastating virus.”

COVID-19 cases in the state have surged of late — particularly in the middle of the state — with 11,972 cases reported Wednesday. According to the state Department of Health, there are 5,852 patients hospitalized with 1,191 in intensive care units in the commonwealth. 248 deaths were reported Wednesday.

Wolf said that he hoped the measures would provide a bridge to the what he called “Holy Grail” — the vaccines that are expected to roll out later this month. But the new surge, he said, which is now hitting more younger people in the commonwealth, means actions need to be taken immediately.

“Each of the last two days we have reported the highest number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic,” Health Secretary 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.”

The news restrictions are as follows:

In-Person Dining and Alcohol Sales:

  • 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.
  • 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, or this or any other Order issued by the Sec. of Health or by the governor.

Officials say that multiple studies continue to show that indoor dining drives new infections. They also cited data from Chase showing with higher credit card users who visited restaurants led to higher rtes of infection three weeks later.

Indoor Gatherings and Events

  • Indoor gatherings and events of more than 10 persons are prohibited.
  • Churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other places of congregate worship are specifically excluded from the limitations set forth above during religious services, these institutions are strongly encouraged to find alternative methods for worship, as in person gatherings pose a significant risk to participants at this time. While this an incredibly difficult recommendation to make, particularly at this time of year, faith leaders must carefully weigh the health risks to their congregants given the immense amount of community spread of COVID-19.

Outdoor Gatherings and Events

  • Outdoor gatherings and events of more than 50 persons are prohibited.

Capacity Limits for Businesses

  • All in-person 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.

Gyms and Fitness Facilities 

  • Indoor operations at gyms and fitness facilities are prohibited.
  • Outdoor facilities and outdoor classes can continue, but all participants must wear face coverings in accordance with the Sec. of Health’s Updated Order Requiring Universal Face Coverings, including any subsequent amendments, and practice physical distancing requirements.

Entertainment Industry 

  • 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.

In-Person Extracurricular School Activities

  • Voluntary activities sponsored or approved by a school entity’s governing body or administration are suspended, but these 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.

K-12 School Sports and Youth Sports

  • All sports at K-12 public schools, nonpublic schools, private schools and club, travel, recreational, intramural, and intramural sports are paused.

Professional and Collegiate Sports 

  • Professional or collegiate sports activities may continue in accordance with guidance from the CDC and the Department of Health.
  • Spectators may not attend such sports activities in person.
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