Skip Navigation

Restaurants and bars are struggling under Pa.’s coronavirus restrictions

25% capacity rule is untenable; help by wearning a mask!

  • Russ Walker
More than 20 U.S. states now require face masks, as officials hope to curb a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases. Here, patrons wear masks as they sit in the outdoor patio of a restaurant on Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

 David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

More than 20 U.S. states now require face masks, as officials hope to curb a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases. Here, patrons wear masks as they sit in the outdoor patio of a restaurant on Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Good news, PBS fans! Ken Burns has agreed to take his documentarian’s lens to the lives of Muhammad Ali, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci. Burns, most famous for his Civil War series, will also produce documentaries on the Revolutionary War and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The Associated Press has more here. — Russ Walker, PA Post editor
More than 20 U.S. states now require face masks, as officials hope to curb a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases. Here, patrons wear masks as they sit in the outdoor patio of a restaurant on Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Patrons wear masks as they sit in the outdoor patio of a restaurant on Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Restaurants and bars across Pennsylvania are hurting, restricted to operating at just 25 percent capacity for indoor service. Anyone who’s ever worked in food and bar service knows that setting such a low capacity doesn’t provide enough customer turnover to pay staff and vendors. Forget breaking even. For many owners, the 25 percent capacity ceiling is a recipe for losing money.

State and local health officials have tied the recent resurgence of coronavirus infections to gatherings in restaurants and bars after the first set of restrictions were eased in late May and June. But some critics say the strict rules handed down by Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine aren’t supported by data.

Show us the data tying the recent rise in cases to bar and restaurant patrons, the critics say. Brian Sheehan, a reporter at Harrisburg’s CBS 21, is leading that charge, filing a public records request with the state for all data that was used to justify the 25 percent indoor capacity rule handed down on July 15.

The head of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association told Sheehan that he doesn’t understand what the capacity rule is based on. “The virus responds to social distancing, face masking, and certain other safety and disinfectant protocol, but the virus doesn’t know about fire code capacities,” he said, adding that most restaurants are practicing social distancing, requiring servers to wear masks, and thoroughly sanitizing everything from restrooms to chairs and tables..

It’s impossible to ignore the pleas coming from the industry. We all want to get back to normal, to go to dinner at a favorite restaurant or watch a game at the local bar. And perhaps it’s unfair to blame them for the resurgence of the virus. After all, plenty of people are gathering in other ways, from backyard parties to youths sports leagues to street protests.

How do we bend the curve back toward zero? The science is pretty darn clear: Wear a mask in public.

New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. looks at the complexity of containing the epidemic in a big story published Wednesday. This section makes the case for masks:

“[Coronavirus] is extremely transmissible, through not just coughed droplets but also a fine aerosol mist that is expelled when people talk loudly, laugh or sing and that can linger in indoor air. As a result, masks are far more effective than scientists once believed.

“Virus carriers with mild or no symptoms can be infectious, and there may be 10 times as many people spreading the illness as have tested positive for it.”

In The Atlantic, staff writer Derek Thompson says while it’s true that the virus isn’t easily spread from touching surfaces, the airborne spread is real. Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Thompson: “My point is not to relax, but rather to focus on what matters and what works. Masks, social distancing, and moving activities outdoors. That’s it. That’s how we protect ourselves. That’s how we beat this thing.”

So when attention-seeking politicians like state Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) make a big show of not wearing a mask, know that he and his fellow travelers are selfishly keeping us all from being able to resume normal life. The best thing for restaurants and bars is to contain the virus enough that they can reopen at 100 percent capacity.

How do we do that? By WEARING A MASK, that’s how!


Best of the rest

WITF’s Keira McGuire is out with a new video in which she focuses on York County Coroner Pam Gay, above, and how the coronavirus epidemic is affecting her job. Watch it here.

  • The United States crossed a grim milestone on Wednesday when the COVID-19 death toll reached 150,000. In Pennsylvania, it was another day of 800+ new cases. Delaware County is seeing an increase, while data shows the epidemic still growing in Allegheny County and the rest of southwestern Pa. Brett Sholtis for WITF rounds up the latest data on central Pa.’s counties.

  • Vice President Mike Pence will be back in Pa. today for a campaign bus trip that includes a stop in Greensburg. Pence’s trip comes as a new Franklin & Marshall poll shows Democrat Joe Biden leading President Trump in the state. The poll found Biden ahead of the president by 9 points. “I’m not going to make an argument Trump can’t win, but he obviously has his work cut out for him,” said F&M’s G. Terry Madonna. The big challenge for Trump: Convincing voters he can provide leadership to overcome the coronavirus epidemic. The poll shows 49% of Pennsylvanians aren’t happy with the White House’s performance so far.

  • Game on! At least, that’s what the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association says for fall high school sports. But LNP notes, “Roadblocks … could come from state government, local school boards or, of course, health and safety issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

  • Tracing everyone who comes into contact with a person with coronavirus is a key tactic in controlling the epidemic. Pa. is looking to Ireland for help. According to the Associated Press, the Pa. Health Department is eyeing a contact tracing app used by 20 percent of Ireland’s population, with plans to have it rolled out by the end of August.

  • WHYY’s Katie Meyer takes a look at the campaign in Pa.’s First Congressional District. She notes that incumbent Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R) and challenger Christina Finello (D) “ are both trying to walk a fine line on policing reform.”

  • Former president George W. Bush will headline the next Global Summit in Erie, the Jefferson Educational Society announced Wednesday. The summit schedule will be set once the coronavirus situation is under control. “We had originally scheduled the Global Summit in November, but we have agreements with all of our speakers that if a game-changer is not at play with the COVID-19, we will push the series to a later date until it is deemed safe to take place,” society President Ferki Ferati told “We hope that is as soon as possible.”

  • Independent journalist Nick R. Martin writes a newsletter called The Informant in which he reports on hate groups in the United States. In an issue he sent Wednesday, he looks at Timothy Wilson, a Nazi who plotted to blow up a hospital in the Kansas City area before being killed in a shootout with the feds. What’s interesting to me about Wilson’s story is his connection to Nazis right here in Pennsylvania. Martin reports that Wilson was officially inducted into the National Socialist Movement last fall at a ceremony held at the Ulysses, Pa., home of Daniel Burnside. Just this month, Burnside allowed his property to be used for a Swastika burning on July 17 before a small group of Nazis held a short-lived rally in Williamsport on July 18. Martin’s newsletter is subscription only, though he occasionally sends out free issues. To support his work, go to, or follow him on Twitter @NickMartin.

  • Gig economy workers like Uber drivers should not be considered as independent contractors for the purpose of determining eligibility for unemployment benefits. That’s one way to read a Pa. Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday. The ruling isn’t quite that clear cut. The Philadelphia Inquirer says “the ruling does not suddenly reclassify all Uber drivers as employees. What it does is make it easier for Uber drivers to get access to unemployment benefits, and sets a precedent for advocates to make a similar case: that these workers are not being treated as traditional independent contractors.”

Don’t forget!

Join our partners at WITF tonight at 7 p.m. for the fourth in a series of virtual conversations about systemic racism and injustice. More sessions are planned this summer, each featuring community leaders and focused on specific manifestations of institutional racism. Thursday’s discussion will explore racial inequality in housing, including access to home ownership and gentrification. Sign up to attend the free event here.

Subscribe to The Contextour weekday newsletter

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next

Pa.'s got plenty of 2020 election lawsuits: An Update