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August 20, 2020

Philly restaurants allowed to restart indoor dining with significant restrictions after Labor Day

Movie theaters, live performance theaters, bowling alleys also slated to reopen at drastically reduced capacities

Government Restaurants
Philly indoor dining BASTIAAN SLABBERS/For PhillyVoice

Philadelphia is poised to allow restaurants to resume in indoor dining on Sept. 8. Restaurant workers and diner will be required to follow a long list of safety guidelines. Restaurant also my continue to serve customers outdoors. The file photo above show tables and chairs used for outdoor dining at a Rittenhouse Square restaurant.

Philadelphia restaurants can resume indoor dining on Sept. 8, if the city's battle against COVID-19 continues its current trend of reducing infections. 

But when this happens, the dining experience will be very different than it was prior to the pandemic. 

Restaurants must limit capacities to 25% and close by midnight. No more than four guests can be seated together. Tables must be kept at least 6 feet apart. Bar seating is prohibited and alcohol only can be served as part of a meal. 

Employees and customers will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival. Servers must wear face masks and face shields. 

Restaurants will be subject to inspections, including those conducted in response to complaints. Non-compliance will not be tolerated, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said Thursday.

"If they find that diners are crowded together or that staff are not wearing masks and not wearing face shields, we will be quick to close restaurants," Farley said. 

Restaurants are advised to install partitions in areas where social distancing can be difficult to enforce, such as at cash registers, host stands and food pickup areas. They also are encouraged to improve ventilation by opening windows or adjusting HVAC units. 

Philadelphia published all of its COVID-19 protocols for indoor dining on the city's website. Outdoor dining has been permitted at city restaurants since June 5 and will continue under the same guidelines.

"I would urge restaurant owners and employees and patrons – let's not push the envelope," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "Let's follow the rules as we've been following the rules for quite some time now. Those rules have made us safer and gotten us to this point." 

The mayor added, "As we've seen in the past, when we do that the infection counts go down. The death counts go down. We start to open up more and more things and get ourselves back to a somewhat new normal." 

The city had indicated in late July that a decision on indoor dining resuming in September would be made by Aug. 21 in order to give restaurants and bars enough time to plan accordingly.

Indoor dining has been prohibited since March, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit the city. Outdoor dining resumed earlier this summer. 

Theaters – movie theaters and venues that host live performances – also are permitted to resume operations Sept. 8, but for many, it will be at dramatically reduced capacities – no more than 25 people, all of whom must wear masks. No food or drink will be permitted.

The same capacity limits will be in place at bowling alleys, arcades and other indoor activities, like mini-golf, billiards, ping pong and ax throwing, but those places can reopen immediately, city officials said. Operators must screen all employees and guests for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival. 

Groups must be no larger than six people and venues must ensure that parties stay 6 feet apart. No food or drinks are permitted. Hand-washing stations must be placed around facilities, and high-touch surface areas should be disinfected regularly.

The city is relaxing its restrictions in response to the trend of improving COVID-19 metrics. 

Philadelphia's case positivity rate has dropped from 5.4% in mid-July to 4.0% last week, Farley said. Contact tracers are reaching about 69% of contacts provided by infected people. Daily case counts also are down.

But Farley indicated the city would be quick to reverse course if those metrics shift in the wrong direction. 

"We are announcing this change now in order to give restaurant operators sufficient time to prepare," Farley said. "However, we move forward with an abundance of caution. Between now and Sept. 8, should we witness an increase in the rate of COVID-19 case counts in Philadelphia, we will reconsider whether this change is still viable."

City officials decided to wait until the day after Labor Day to ease restrictions on indoor dining and theaters, hoping to avoid a holiday surge. 

The city reported 105 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing the city's total to 32,674. There were no new deaths reported, but 18 fatalities have been confirmed over the last two weeks. 

Philadelphia officials said the uptick in deaths is likely a reflection of the spike in coronavirus cases seen in late July. 

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