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January 12, 2021

Indoor dining at Philly restaurants can resume in limited capacity on Jan. 16

City further details phases for coronavirus vaccine access

Restrictions Coronavirus

Philadelphia restaurants will be permitted to allow indoor dining at 25% of seating capacity on Jan. 16, 2021. The health department prohibited indoor dining in late November as the winter surge of COVID-19 intensified.

Philadelphia will move forward with plans to lift some COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining on Jan. 16, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said Tuesday.

After an evaluation of current coronavirus case counts and hospital capacity, the city will cautiously back off the restrictions put in effect in November. Maximum capacities in restaurants will be based on seating, not general occupancy.

The following changes take effect on Saturday, Jan. 16:

• Indoor dining will be allowed with a cap on the number of diners set at 25% of the seating capacity. Guests must wear masks at all times except when seated. Servers are required to wear both masks and face shields.

• Theaters and performance spaces will be allowed with a cap on the total number of attendees, including staff, of 10% maximum occupancy. If the maximum occupancy is unknown, the limit will be 10 people per 1,000 square feet of space at the venue. Everyone in attendance must be masked, and no food or drink is allowed.

• Colleges will be allowed to resume in-person classes.

Some settings will continue to be subject to restrictions under the city's "Safer at Home" COVID-19 protocols from November:

• Senior day services, such as senior centers and adult day cares, must remain closed. 

• Indoor catered events are prohibited. 

• Indoor gatherings, including in the home, remain prohibited or otherwise strongly discouraged where guidlines cannot be 

The health department also released more detailed guidance on the phases of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The phases, developed using guidance from the CDC and the city's Vaccine Advisory Committee, are defined as follows:

• Phase 1a, which the city is currently in, includes health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes.

• Phase 1b will include first responders, service providers working with high-risk populations, public transit, food workers, childcare and education providers, high-volume essential retail workers, and those who manufacture critical goods. Also included in this phase are those at a high-risk of morbidity or mortality—including people who live and work in congregate residential settings, people over the age of 75, and those living with high-risk medical conditions.

• Phase 1c will include sanitation workers, maintenance/janitorial workers, utility workers, postal and package delivery workers, those who work in higher education, finance, transportation, construction, IT & telecommunications, public health, and legal professions. Also included in this phase are those at a high-risk morbidity or mortality—including people between the ages of 65 and 74.

• Phase 2 will attempt to vaccinate everyone older than 16 years of age who was not previously immunized.

Working through these phases is expected to take several months, even with anticipated improvements in the vaccine supply chain. The city does not plan to wait for the completion of one phase before entering the next, but how quickly that happens will depend on the city's supply.

Phase 1b, for example, is likely to start around the end of January. 

Farley said the vaccine will be available at a combination of sites similar to where flu shots are available. This includes hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, urgent care centers, and on-site at congregate settings such as nursing homes.

Mass vaccination clinics, such the one for health care workers last week the Pennsylvania Convention Center, also will be expanded and developed as more supply becomes available.

Additional information about the city's distribution plans will be finalized in the near future.

On Tuesday, federal officials announced revised guidelines for the release of reserve doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which have been held to ensure that second doses are available to recipients three to four weeks after their first dose, depending on the vaccine. 

To date, these doses have been reserved in warehouses as a guarantee and released to cities only when it's time for recipients to receive a second dose. The new federal plan aims to expedite the availability of these doses so that they can be administered to additional recipients in a continuous supply chain. Broader availability of the vaccine would then be targeted to anyone over the age of 65. 

Farley reacted to the new guidelines with caution, explaining that the city's readiness to use additional doses of vaccine will depend on whether the supply is guaranteed for those who already have received their first dose. The city has not yet been given a confirmed supply schedule of the vaccine beyond January. 

"The problem with that is that if we were to administer those doses to people, and we don't have a guarantee of how many doses will arrive in the future, we may have people who have been vaccinated with the first dose, but we don't have any vaccine left when they come in for the second dose," Farley said. "It may help us a little bit, but it needs to be paired with much better information than we're getting right now about how many doses will be produced and delivered to us in the future." 

The health commissioner also reiterated that maintaining a priority system for vaccines, as outlined in the city's phases above, helps to facilitate equitable distribution. Adjustments to the city's planning and timeline for vaccine access will depend on expanded supply and capacity for distribution. 

"There is a reason for the priority system and that is to try to save as many lives as possible," Farley said. 

Post-holiday case counts still remain high

Philadelphia reported 637 additional new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the citywide total to 98,215 since the start of the pandemic. Another 181 probable cases were announced from rapid antigen tests.

From Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, based on currently available data, the city averaged 584 cases per day, with a test positivity rate of 8.6%. During the previous week, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3, the city averaged 481 cases per day and a test positivity rate of 8.9%.

"There was an increase in cases, but a decrease in the percent of people who tested positive," Farley said. "Overall, we're about the same."

Farley added that he's hopeful the recent increase in cases in Philadelphia, the region and the country as a whole will slow down over the next week or two, as we move further away from the holidays. That expectation is partly what informed the decision to ease restrictions this coming weekend.

Another 37 fatalities reported Tuesday raised the city's COVID-19 death toll to 2,640, including 1,041 nursing home residents.

As of Tuesday, the health department reported 616 patients with COVID-19 are currently being treated in Philadelphia hospitals, with a total of 91 on ventilators.

As the vaccine rollout continues, Farley said Philadelphia residents must be patient and stick to the prevention methods that have been followed over the past year.

"We have said in the past that we need to come at this winter wave of the pandemic with our existing tools — masks and distance," Farley said. "That is still true. There's just not enough vaccine for us to make a difference in this particular wave of the pandemic. We'll all need to wear masks and practice social distancing for months, anyway, whether we're vaccinated or not."