Wolf easing restaurant restrictions; GOP says it's not enough

March 15, 2021
In The News

HARRISBURG — Restaurants will be able to increase the number of customers they serve to 75% of normal capacity and resume bar service beginning April 4, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday.

Gyms and entertainment venues will also be able allowed to increase the number of customers they serve to 75% of their normal capacity and the cap on indoor crowd sizes is being increased to 25% of the normal capacity of the venue. Outside gatherings will be allowed to increase to 50% the venue’s normal capacity, Wolf announced Monday.

Restaurants will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity if they complete the state’s self-certification process to confirm that they are following COVID safety guidelines. Restaurants that don’t complete the self-certification process can operate at 50% capacity, Wolf said.

“Pennsylvanians have stepped up and done their part to help curb the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said. “Our case counts continue to go down, hospitalizations are declining, and the percent positivity rate gets lower every week – all very positive signs. The number of people getting vaccinated increases daily and we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to allow our restaurants, bars and other service businesses to get back to more normal operations.”

While the lifting of these restrictions is good news, Gov. Wolf said mask-wearing, social distancing and business adherence to all safety orders are still needed to limit the spread of COVID.

“We’ve come so far and now is not the time to stop the safety measures we have in place to protect ourselves, our families and our communities,” Wolf said.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus, said Wolf’s move is welcome but that the governor should be more ambitious about undoing the COVID mitigation restrictions.

“It has not come soon enough and does not go far enough to help Pennsylvania’s workers, small businesses, and hospitality industry recover from a year’s-worth of unprecedented Wolf administration-mandated shutdowns,” he said.

State Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette County, said that voters unhappy with the pace of reopening the economy should vote in favor of a proposed Constitutional amendment that would limit Wolf's emergency powers.

“For far too long, Governor Wolf has used his unilateral authority to change and suspend state laws and shut down local economies, putting many people out of work," he said.

The proposed Constitutional amendment is scheduled to be on the May 18 ballot and would limit emergencies to 21 days unless the General Assembly approves it and bar the governor from vetoing legislative efforts to end his emergency declarations.

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder County, said because of the availability of vaccines and tumbling COVID case counts, there’s no reason for the state to keep restrictions in place.

“If a restaurant can operate safely at 75% capacity, it can do the same thing at full capacity,” Keller said, calling the governor’s announcement “too little, too late.”

The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, however, said the governor’s move was a welcome response to their plea for Wolf to act. Chuck Moran, executive director of the tavern association, said the group had asked Wolf to relax the restrictions last week because neighboring states were doing so.

“As the light at the end of the tunnel appears a little brighter today, it is our hope that with continued success from our country’s medical scientists and the rollout of the vaccine, that we’ll be out of this dark place soon,” Moran said.

Wolf announced the move to further relax the mitigation restrictions hours after he toured a Berks County site where teachers are being given the COVID-19 vaccine.

At that site, Wolf doubled-down on a goal announced last week that state officials believe that by the end of the month all those in Phase 1a of the state’s vaccination plan — seniors and those with medical conditions that make them more likely to get seriously ill if they get COVID — will either have gotten a first dose of vaccine or gotten an appointment to get a COVID vaccine shot.

Wolf said that the number of vaccine doses being distributed to the states by the federal government is increasing at a pace that suggests that in the next few weeks there will be enough vaccine doses available to meet the demand.

“We will have enough vaccine to do this,” he said.