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December 30, 2020

Pennsylvania to lift toughest COVID-19 restrictions as planned

Indoor dining, gyms allowed to reopen in early 2021, Gov. Wolf says

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

Pennsylvania will lift limited-time restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, museums and other activities at 8 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2021. The measures were put in place in mid-December as the state faced a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Pennsylvania's most recent round of COVID-19 restrictions — including a ban on indoor dining and gyms — will be lifted as planned on Jan. 4, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday.

The decision to stick with the original date is based on the state's recently falling COVID-19 case counts, Wolf said.

"Our mitigation efforts over the past several weeks are working, and I thank everyone who abided by the restrictions put in place to protect us," Wolf said. "Every time we make a small decision to avoid risk – or take steps to make our actions a little bit less risky – we are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. At this time, my intention is to allow the time-limited mitigation orders that went into effect on Dec. 12 to expire as planned on Jan. 4."

In addition to the restrictions on restaurants and gyms, the Dec. 12 measures included stricter limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, the suspension of extracurricular school activities and the closure of entertainment and recreational venues such as museums, casinos and private clubs. Retail establishments also were given more stringent capacity limits to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

When these restrictions are lifted at 8 a.m. on Jan. 4, the state's mitigation efforts will revert to the following:

Business, work, school, child care and congregate settings

•Child care may open, complying with guidance

•Congregate care restrictions will be in place

•Prison and hospital restrictions will be determined by individual facilities

•Schools will be subjected to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance.

•Telework must continue unless impossible

•Businesses with in-person operations must follow updated business and building safety requirements

•Masks will be required in businesses

•All in-person businesses may operate at 75% occupancy, except where noted

•Self-certified restaurants may open at 50% capacity for indoor dining; Restaurants that have not self-certified will be at 25% capacity for indoor dining

•On-premises alcohol consumption will be prohibited unless part of a meal; cocktails-to-go and carryout beverages will be allowed

•Serving alcohol for on-site consumption must end at 11 p.m., and all alcoholic beverages must be removed from patrons by midnight

•Personal care services, including hair salons and barbershops, can open at 50% occupancy and by appointment only

•Indoor recreation and health facilities, such as gyms and spas, can open at 50% occupancy with appointments strongly encouraged; fitness facilities will be directed to prioritize outdoor activities

•All entertainment venues, including casinos, theaters and museums, may open at 50% occupancy

•Construction can be at full capacity with continued implementation of protocols

•Hospitals will still being monitored to determine if elective procedure reductions should be ordered regionally

•The out-of-state testing requirement will still in place

•Local governments may still have more strict guidance in place

Social Restrictions

•Gatherings limits will be determined using maximum occupancy calculator

•Face coverings will be required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home

•Unnecessary travel should be limited

"This does not mean that we’re out of the woods – not by any means," Wolf said Wednesday. "We still have significant mitigation efforts in place."

As the vaccine distribution and rollout continues for vulnerable populations across the state, Pennsylvania has seen an encouraging dip in new COVID-19 infections and the test positivity rate.

After the Thanksgiving holiday, Pennsylvania had seen a massive surge in new cases and corresponding deaths, hitting record highs in both categories as hospitals again came under strain.

The planned lifting of the time-limited restrictions in January will come after the Christmas and New Year's holidays, prompting some concern that the announcement might send the wrong message ahead of the holiday weekend.

In Philadelphia, where case counts also have shown encouraging signs lately, tougher restrictions will remain in place until Jan. 15. The city's restrictions will continue for indoor dining, indoor gatherings and events, theaters, casinos, colleges and indoor organized sports. 

Philadelphia officials previously indicated that they may lift some other restrictions pending Wolf's decision about the time-limited mitigation efforts.

Pennsylvania reported 8,984 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 631,333. There are 6,022 people hospitalized with COVID-19, double the peak in the spring, and 1,174 patients in the intensive care unit. 

There were 319 new fatalities reported Wednesday, for a total of 15,672 deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Wolf said Pennsylvanians should look forward to 2021 with optimism, but remain vigilant about safety measures and guidelines until vaccines are broadly available.

"We can all have hope that next year will have a brighter ending than this year," Wolf said. "And that hope should energize us to keep our guard up and continue the fight against COVID-19 in the months ahead. By working together, we can keep one another safe while we wait for the vaccine."