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March 15, 2021

Bar service to resume in Pennsylvania under loosened COVID-19 restrictions on April 4

Other changes affect restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues in the suburbs. Philadelphia officials – slower to relax pandemic rules – have not said they are on board yet

Government COVID-19
Bars Pennsylvania COVID Pavel Danilyuk/

Pennsylvania's COVID-19 restrictions will be revised April 4 to allow bars to resume service and businesses to increase occupancy limits. Restaurants that are self-certified with the state will be able to expand to 75% capacity for indoor dining.

Pennsylvania will loosen occupancy limits and other COVID-19 restrictions affecting restaurants, entertainment venues and other businesses beginning April 4. It remains to be seen whether Philadelphia officials will follow Harrisburg's lead.

The plan, revealed Monday by Gov. Tom Wolf, will free restaurants from curfews and rules on serving alcohol, such as the requirement that customers purchase food if they want to get a drink. Restaurants also will be allowed to resume bar service. 

Restaurants that have undergone the state's self-certification process will be permitted to increase indoor dining capacities to 75% on Easter Sunday. Those that aren't self-certified will be allowed to increase indoor dining capacities to 50%. Self-certification gives businesses the option to attest to their compliance with health and sanitation regulations. 

"Our case counts continue to go down, hospitalizations are declining, and the percent positivity rate gets lower every week – all very positive signs," Wolf said. "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."

Personal service facilities, gyms and entertainment facilities, such as casinos, theaters and malls, will be permitted to increase capacity levels to 75%. 

Maximum occupancy limits for indoor events will increase from 15% to 25%, regardless of venue size. For outdoor events, the occupancy limit will increase from 20% to 50%. 

Whether these changes will take effect in Philadelphia depends on the decisions of the city health department, which often has delayed easing restrictions that have been changed at the state level.

"We will review any new changes to statewide restrictions issued by the governor and determine what makes sense for Philadelphia based on our local conditions," Philadelphia health department spokesman James Garrow said. "As has been the case throughout the pandemic, Philadelphia is able to remain more restrictive than the state when it comes to COVID-19 mitigation guidance."

The city recently aligned with Pennsylvania's previous changes allowing 15% occupancy at indoor events and 20% occupancy at outdoor events. The current city guidelines allow about 3,100 fans to attend games at the Wells Fargo Center and 8,800 fans to attend games at Citizens Bank Park.

If the city matches the state's adjustments, about 5,120 fans would be allowed at the Wells Fargo Center for Flyers and Sixers games. About 21,400 fans would be allowed at Citizens Bank Park for Phillies games.

Philadelphia's COVID-19 case rates have remained somewhat steady in recent weeks, after a period of notable decline in February. The city's vaccination efforts have been boosted by the presence of a FEMA clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Wolf reminded Pennsylvania residents that the pending changes will still require mask-wearing, social distancing and adherence to health regulations.

"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. "Keep wearing a mask, social distancing, and, please, get vaccinated when it's your turn."