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April 27, 2021

Philly changes course, plans to ease restaurant restrictions as COVID-19 cases decline

Limits on indoor catered events and other gatherings also will loosen next month

Government COVID-19
Philly May Restrictions COVID BASTIAAN SLABBERS/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia's COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants, indoor catered events and other gatherings will be further eased May 7.

One week after suggesting Philadelphia's COVID-19 restrictions would largely stay put, the health department is now prepared to further ease measures affecting restaurants, catered events and other gatherings.

The shift in direction comes as new data points to a downward trend in cases across the city and region, following a spike earlier this month that saw transmission rise to its highest point since the start of the year.

In response to the slowing spread, the city will make the following changes May 7. 


•Indoor dining capacity will be increased from 25% to 50%. Restaurants that have already met the health department's enhanced ventilation standards can increase from 50% capacity to 75% capacity.

•Maximum indoor table capacity will be increased from four to six people, and there will no longer be a requirement that everyone at the table be from the same household

•For outdoor dining, the maximum table size will be increased to 10 people, which is the state limit.

•As of last Friday, Philadelphia restaurants with bar service may allow groups of four or fewer people from the same household to sit at the bar, as long as barriers are provided between groups and bar staff. 

Indoor catered events

•Philadelphia will allow indoor catered social events up to 25% occupancy with a cap of 75 people, including all staff. If case rates continue to fall, the city may increase that cap to 150 beginning May 21.

Other gatherings and events

•Indoor gatherings and events will be able to increase their maximum capacity to 25% of normal capacity and outdoor gatherings and events will be able to increase maximum capacity to 50%.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley strongly recommended that Philadelphia residents be fully vaccinated before partaking in these higher-risk and higher-density activities.

Indoor catered events, in particular, remain an area of concern for transmission. The city currently only allows indoor catering at business meetings where no alcohol is served and there is a cap of 250 people. Indoor catered social events have been prohibited in the city for over a year.

"Events like indoor weddings are the events that we consider to be the highest risk," Farley said. "The reason is because people know each other, they mix between tables, they spend a long time close together, they take their masks off to eat and drink, they take their masks off for the pictures," Farley said. "If they're using alcohol, they tend to take their masks off and let down their guard. Many examples of COVID outbreaks have occurred at weddings and social gatherings like that."

In response to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance on mask use outdoors, Farley said the city's existing policy is largely consistent with that.

"If you're outdoors and you're more than six feet away from others, you don't need to wear a mask," Farley said. "But if you're within six feet of other people, you need to wear a mask. What (the CDC) is saying is that if you are vaccinated and you are outdoors, and you're within six feet of a small group of people, then you don't need to wear a mask. It's a relatively small change and we will follow those recommendations."

Cases fall as vaccination presses forward

Philadelphia averaged 458 cases per day last week, with a test positivity rate of 5.9%, based on currently available data. During the previous week, the city averaged 616 cases per day and a test positivity rate of 6.6%.

"Cases are falling in the United States right now, they're falling in New Jersey since about April 1," Farley said. "They're falling in Pennsylvania since the last week or so and falling in Delaware in the past few days. The fact that it's declining throughout the entire region is a hopeful sign for Philadelphia."

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Philadelphia also have begun to decline, falling from 551 patients last week to 481 this week.

As of Monday evening, roughly 736,000 Philadelphia residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 488,000 people are fully vaccinated. Approximately 34% of Philadelphia residents over the age of 18 are now fully vaccinated and 55% of people over the age of 65 are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.

Vaccination opportunities remain open across Philadelphia to all residents 16 and older. Farley encouraged those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

"I want to recommend that everyone get vaccinated," Farley said. "It's never been easier."