Pennsylvanians won’t be able to just belly up to the bar for a drink beginning Thursday.
With daily new COVID-19 cases approaching 1,000 several times in the past week, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday announced limitations on bars, restaurants and indoor gatherings to head off a new wave of infection.
Bar seating is prohibited and sale of alcohol for on-site consumption is only permitted along with the purchase of a meal.
Restaurants have been allowed to operate at 50% capacity, but that is now reduced to 25% capacity.
Indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people.
During a press briefing Wednesday, Wolf pointed to steep increases in Florida, Texas and Arizona, saying the new mitigation efforts are meant to prevent the stress on hospitals those states are seeing.
By acting now, Wolf said, Pennsylvania can get back on track to reopen schools after Labor Day.
“If we don’t want to become Florida; if we don’t want to become Texas; if we don’t want to become Arizona, we have to act now,” Wolf said.
The new measures are based on evidence collected through contact tracing of those recently infected, he said.
“This is the virus speaking,” Wolf said. “The virus is making the rules here.”
Three catalysts identified were those ignoring mask orders and social distancing guidelines while congregating in bars and restaurants, travel to and from hot spots in other states and lack of a coordinated national prevention effort, he said.
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the governor’s order targets areas that have created “pockets of super spread” without more drastic statewide closures.
“We can get ahead of the curve and assure that not only will our hospitals and health systems be available to patients, but that our economy will survive while still saving lives.”
Dr. David Rubin, director of both PolicyLab and Population Health Innovation at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, joined the press briefing by video link. He said the programs have been tracking the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning and helped guide many of the reopening policies.
Rubin said the programs continued to track the virus and pledged to return to action if there was “incontrovertible evidence” that a second wave was on the way.
“Sadly enough, I am here today to let people know that evidence is now extremely clear,” Rubin said.
If the public does not take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Rubin said, in September, it may be difficult to convince parents and teachers it is safe to return to the classrooms.
Wolf said he is optimistic that the new measures – along with more public acceptance of mask wearing, social distancing and sanitation – will get the state back on track by Labor Day.
“This is what we need to do if we want to stop this virus in its tracks right now so that by the time it comes to open schools, we can do that.”