HARRISBURG – All but one of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 mitigation restrictions will be lifted by Memorial Day.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Tuesday that only the state mask-wearing requirement will remain in place after that.
Capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses, as well as indoor and outdoor event gathering limits, will go away on May 31, the Department of Health said.
Wolf said the order requiring Pennsylvanians to wear masks will be lifted when 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated – a total of 7.1 million residents. That percentage stood at nearly 42% on Tuesday.
Just more than 6.4 million Pennsylvania adults have gotten at least one dose of vaccine when vaccinations in Philadelphia, which runs its vaccination effort separately from the rest of the state, are included, according to the CDC. That amounts to 63% of the state’s adult population.
The state’s vaccination program received 323,520 first doses this week.
Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said: “I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand-washing and sanitizing and social distancing.”
Since Easter, restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters have been allowed to operate at 75% capacity, and indoor crowd sizes have been permitted at up to 25% of the venue’s normal occupancy limit. Outdoor venues have been permitted to operate at up to 50% of their normal capacity. Those restrictions end at 12:01 a.m. May 31.
The announcement comes a day after the governors of New York and New Jersey both announced that restrictions in those states will be easing on May 19.
The announcement was cheered by tavern owners.
“Pennsylvania’s small business taverns and licensed restaurants are certainly ready for this change as the past 14 months have been some of the worst in industry history,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. “There are countless stories of financial ruin and jobs lost ... but now the time has come in which we can move into a full recovery mode. It’s time to make the comeback greater than the setback.”
Republican legislative leaders said the move to end the mitigation efforts will end a period of economic catastrophe for business owners and workers across the state.
“Over the last 14 months, Pennsylvanians have had to not only endure the health impacts and threats of a global pandemic, but have also struggled through government mitigation orders that picked winners and losers and unfairly targeted certain industries over others,” said House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre. “Today’s announcement is undoubtedly welcomed news for a Commonwealth that has suffered for far too long under unilateral and often confusing mitigation orders.”
The announced ending of restrictions comes two weeks before voters are due to decide whether to amend the Constitution to limit governors’ emergency powers.
While the announcement is welcome, “Governor Wolf still has the power to change his mind at any time to arbitrarily reinstitute these restrictions without consent of the General Assembly,” Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, and Senate President Pro Tem Jake Corman, R-Centre, said in a joint statement.
Under the state’s guidance, people are still supposed to wear masks both indoors and outdoors in crowds. The state’s guidance indicates that fully-vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors if they are socializing with other fully-vaccinated people.
“With millions of Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated, it’s time to plan the transition back to normal,” said Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, a member of the legislative task force Wolf established to help plan the state’s vaccine rollout.