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Wolf orders halt on indoor dining, limits to gatherings amid COVID-19 surge

The new public health measures come as COVID-19 cases near all-time highs and hospital intensive care units are nearing capacity.

  • Brett Sholtis
A waitress serves lunch to a customer at the Penrose Diner during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Philadelphia.

 Matt Slocum / AP Photo

A waitress serves lunch to a customer at the Penrose Diner during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, in Philadelphia.

(Harrisburg) — With daily cases near an all-time high and hospitals pushed to capacity, Pennsylvania is under new orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the updated public health mandates during an online news conference Thursday afternoon.

“The measures I’m announcing today are intended to be temporary,” Wolf said. The new measures take effect Saturday and continue through Jan. 4. “For the next three weeks, please, I ask all my fellow Pennsylvanians to stand with me against COVID.”

New measures include:

  • Indoor dining is prohibited
  • Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people
  • Outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people
  • Businesses must limit customers to 50 percent of the building’s occupancy
  • Gyms and fitness centers must cease indoor operations
  • Movie theaters, arcades, casinos, bowling alleys, clubs and some other forms of indoor entertainment must close temporarily 
  • In-person school extracurricular activities, including sports, are suspended

The Wolf administration in April ordered some businesses to close and required people to wear face coverings in public, with some exceptions. The state stepped up enforcement on those orders in November.

The new rules come after a month-long surge in COVID-19 cases that has exhausted health care workers and pushed hospital intensive care units to the breaking point.

In a news release issued before Wolf’s announcement, Republican state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff of Centre County said the governor’s restrictions will “devaste lives and livelihoods” as the holidays approach.

“I recognize we are facing a serious resurgence of COVID-19 and our health care systems are struggling to keep up with the increased demand; however, job-crushing, harmful government mandates are not the answer,” Benninghoff said. “Canceling Christmas is not the answer.”

Benninghoff recommended people “follow common sense and listen to the advice of health care professionals to protect friends, loved ones, those in our communities who are most vulnerable, and those on the front lines of this pandemic.” He was not immediately available to clarify his statement.

Several health care professionals speaking online at the governor’s press conference made the case that broad public health measures work and are needed to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

Virologist and York College professor Meda Higa said a growing body of data show the effectiveness of universal mask wearing and limiting indoor activities, even when people aren’t close together.

In one study of restaurants, “50 percent of people dining at the same table as the infected individual were positive within seven days,” Higa said. “At an adjacent table, 75 percent were infected.”

Higa also pointed to a case study of a hair salon where a universal masking order prevented people from getting infected by COVID-19 positive stylists.

Geisinger CEO Dr. Jaewon Ryu was among the medical doctors urging people to wear masks, follow the rules and be patient. Geisinger hospital intensive care units have been “at or near” capacity for over a week, Ryu said. He said studies show vaccines will work better and more quickly if the virus is less widespread when it arrives.

At least ten Pennsylvania lawmakers have contracted COVID-19, including two state senators who appeared at a Republican policy hearing Nov. 25 with president Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who also has since tested positive.

Wolf also tested positive for the virus Tuesday and has been isolating at home with his wife Frances, who tested negative for the virus. The governor says he does not have any symptoms.

Wolf has said his diagnosis shows those health measures are no guarantee, but is a reminder that everyone must do their part to keep one another safe.


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