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December 10, 2020

Pennsylvania halts indoor dining, closes gyms and restricts retail to stem current COVID-19 surge

Businesses can only let customers in at 50% capacity, also extracurricular activities at schools are canceled and private gatherings limited. It all takes effect Saturday

Government COVID-19
Wolf Restrictions DEC Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced tougher coronavirus restrictions in Pennsylvania amid a deepening crisis across the state. The new mitigation measures impact restaurants, gyms, and other social activities and businesses. They will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on December 12, and remain in effect until 8 a.m. on January 4, 2021.

Amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Pennsylvania is enacting another round of restrictions that will take effect Saturday, Dec. 12,  and continue until Jan. 4. in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the disease.

The restrictions affect gyms, retail businesses, extracurricular activities at schools, private gatherings, indoor dining at restaurants and bars and more. Gov. Tom Wolf, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday, announced the measures Thursday afternoon, describing them as necessary to halt the current surge of coronavirus infections and prevent hospitals and health care workers from becoming overwhelmed with patients.

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The following new restrictions take effect Saturday:

• Extracurricular events at schools are suspended. This includes youth sports, musical ensembles, school plays, student council, clubs, and school dances. These activities may continue virtually.

• All sports at K-12 public schools, nonpublic schools, private schools are paused. So are sports competitions involving club, travel, recreational, and intramural teams. Professional or collegiate sports activities may continue, but without spectators.

• Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people.

• Indoor dining at restaurants is suspended for three weeks beginning Saturday. Outdoor dining and takeout food options remain permitted.

• Theaters, concert venues, gyms, museums, casinos, private clubs, and other venues must close for the duration of the new restriction period. All other similar entertainment, recreational or social facilities, are prohibited from operation.

• In-person retail businesses will only be permitted to operate at 50% capacity. 

"None of us like this situation. Nobody," Wolf said. "But it is what it is and we need to figure out a way to navigate ourselves through that."

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The three-week period of new restrictions is a bridge to a better future that will be aided by the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines soon, Wolf said, while acknowledging how challenging this has been for Pennsylvania residents and the state's business. 

The livelihoods of restaurant owners and their employees particularly have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, Wolf said, but he defended the move to stop indoor dining. The governor and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine cited research, including a CDC study, that has made a connection between indoor dining and a greater chance of spreading of the coronavirus.

"It's not the government putting businesses at the risk, it's the virus," Wolf said. "All of us are doing the best we can to fight this virus. ... We're all concerned if we don't address this correctly, right now, we are going to face even worse problems with the hospitals – and our health care system has to take care of us all. If they're not able to do that, that's going to be a bigger problem than anything else we can possibly imagine. So, we're not targeting anybody. The virus is."

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a dire resurgence of COVID-19, which has increasingly put hospitals under strain across the state. Pennsylvania has been recording about 11,000 cases and 200 deaths each day during the recent surge.

A forecasting model from the University of Washington projects daily COVID-19 cases could increase to 15,000 to 20,000 per day by the end of the year if no actions are taken, Levine said. Deaths also would increase by a significant number.

The United States hit its highest one-day death toll from COVID-19 on Monday, with 3,054 fatalities reported. The number of people who have died since the beginning of the pandemic has topped 290,000. One-third of U.S. hospitals now have more than 90% of ICU beds occupied as infections rise sharply. 

With FDA authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine anticipated in the coming days, Pennsylvania has opted for tougher restrictions to prevent a deeper health crisis through the winter.

The state reported 11,972 additional positive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the Pennsylvania total to 457,289. The state's test positivity rate stood at 14.4% for the week of Nov. 27 through Dec. 3. 

An additional 248 Pennsylvanian's died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the death toll for the pandemic to 12,010. 

“The work we do now to slow the spread of COVID-19 is not only crucial to keeping our fellow Pennsylvanians safe and healthy,” Wolf said Thursday. “It will help all of us get back to normal, and back to all of the things we’ve missed, faster. And it means more Pennsylvanians will be alive to celebrate that brighter future. This year, we show our love for our families and friends by celebrating safely and protecting one another.”

Watch Wolf's entire COVID-19 briefing using the embedded Facebook video below: