New Mitigation Efforts Aimed at Curbing Statewide Rise in COVID-19
By Richard Gaw
Citing the lack of masks being worn, out-of-state travel and visitors and a lack of a nationwide commitment to social distancing, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed new orders for targeted mitigation efforts last week, in response to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the state.
The order went into effect on July 16.
Under the guidelines of the new mitigation efforts:
- All businesses in the retail food services industry, including restaurants, wineries, breweries, private clubs and bars are permitted to provide take-out and delivery sales of food, as well as dine-in service in both indoor and outdoor seating areas, providing they strictly adhere to the requirements of the guidance, as required by the order, including prohibition from conducting operations unless the facility offers sit-down, dine-in meals or is serving take-out sales of alcoholic beverages.
- All restaurant service must be at a table or booth.
- Bar service is prohibited, and alcohol only can be served with a meal.
- Take-out sales of alcohol for the purposes of off-site consumption are permitted subject to any limitations or restrictions imposed by Pennsylvania law.
- Non-bar seating in outdoor areas (i.e., tables or counter seats that do not line up to a bar or food service area) may be used for customer seating.
- Social distancing, masking and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons.
- Occupancy is limited to 25 percent of stated fire-code maximum occupancy for indoor dining, or 25 persons for a discrete indoor event or gathering in a restaurant. The maximum occupancy limit includes staff.
- All nightclubs, as defined by the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, are prohibited from conducting operations.
- Events and gatherings must adhere to these gathering limitations: Indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 persons are prohibited; and outdoor events and gatherings of more than 250 persons are prohibited, including staff.
- Unless not possible, all businesses are required to conduct their operations in whole or in part remotely through employees working from home.
- When working from home is not possible, employees may conduct in-person business operations, providing that the businesses fully comply with the business safety order, the worker safety order and the masking order.
- All gyms and fitness facilities, while permitted to continue indoor operations, are directed to prioritize outdoor physical fitness activities. All activities must follow masking requirements and must provide for social distancing requirements of persons being at least six feet apart, as well as being limited by any limitations related to gatherings.
Pennsylvanians should consider that even with indoor dining limited and bars closed for on-premises alcohol consumption, cocktails to-go are still permitted and there is no shortage of outdoor dining options.
Small gatherings of friends in the backyard or at a local park are permitted and children and families are encouraged to responsibility take advantage of one or more of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or other local outdoor fitness options, including at local gyms that are following social distancing protocols.
“During the past week, we have seen an unsettling climb in new COVID-19 cases,” Gov. Wolf said. “When we hit our peak on April 9, we had nearly 2,000 new cases that day with other days’ cases hovering around 1,000. Medical experts looking at the trajectory we are on now are projecting that this new surge could soon eclipse the April peak. With our rapid case increases we need to act again now.”
The state has identified three catalysts that -- according to recently compiled information -- have led to increases in positive COVID-19 cases. First, a percentage of state residents have been ignoring mask-wearing requirements and social distancing during their visits to bars and restaurants in the state, where they are unknowingly spreading or picking up the virus.
Secondly, the virus is being spread by state residents upon their return from travel to states where the COVID-19 virus has reached dangerous levels; likewise, the virus is also being spread by out-of-state visitors who live in these high visibility areas.
And third, a lack of national coordination has resulted in states in the south and west not committing to social distancing.
The evidence supporting these reasons comes from data compiled by the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which tracks and projects COVID-19 transmission in real time across 500 U.S. counties with active outbreaks. The model was built to observe how social distancing, population density, daily temperatures and humidity affect the number and spread of COVID-19 infections over time across a given county.
“Over the last few weeks, public health reporting and our team’s modeling work have uncovered incontrovertible evidence that the virus is sweeping quickly into the northeast region of the United States from the west and south -- where there has been a failure in some states to practice vigilance in masking and social distancing -- and that it has already begun its resurgence in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. David Rubin, a general pediatrician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We can halt this momentum in its tracks. Gov. Wolf’s measures will help stop the continued spread of the virus into Pennsylvania and its surrounding states, which would threaten the reopening of schools and our economy in the coming months.”
Businesses and individuals who violate these orders -- issued by the Gov. Wolf, Secretary Levine and the Pennsylvania Disease Control and Prevention Law -- could be subject to fines, business closure or other applicable enforcement measures.
“The actions the governor and I are taking today are designed to be surgical and thus precise to prevent from repeating the cycle we saw in the spring,” said Dr. Levine. “We have gained a great deal of experience since the start of this outbreak and have learned from best practices from other states as well as counties right here in Pennsylvania.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].