NEPA Scene Staff

Alcohol sales must end at 5 p.m. on Pennsylvania’s biggest drinking night of the year, Gov. Wolf orders

Alcohol sales must end at 5 p.m. on Pennsylvania’s biggest drinking night of the year, Gov. Wolf orders
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

From a press release:

With new modeling projecting 22,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in Pennsylvania in December, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced new targeted mitigation measures today to help stop the spread during this critical time. These include a robust enforcement plan targeted at “chronic violators,” along with an effort to ensure schools are safe and in compliance with COVID-19 safety plans. The administration is also encouraging Pennsylvanians to limit unnecessary travel and stay at home.

One of the standout restrictions is on crowds both indoors and outdoors. All large events and gatherings are now reduced until further notice. In addition, the retail food services industry, including bars, restaurants, and private catered events, must end alcohol sales for on-site consumption at 5 p.m. on Nov. 25 only, often called “Blackout Wednesday,” the biggest drinking night of the year. Indoor dining may continue, and takeout is encouraged.

The maximum occupancy allowed for indoor events is 10 percent for 0-2,000 people and 5 percent 2,001-10,000 people. The maximum occupancy for outdoor events is 15 percent, 10 percent for 2,001-10,000 people, and 5 percent for over 10,000 people. No indoor events should be over 500 people, and no outdoor events should have more than 2,500 people.

The administration is also advising all Pennsylvanians to limit unnecessary travel and keep gatherings held in homes to members of the same household.

“As our hospitals and health care system are facing greater strain, we need to redouble our efforts to keep people safe,” Wolf said.

“If our health care system is compromised, it isn’t only COVID-19 patients who will suffer. If we run out of hospital beds, or if hospital staff are overworked to the breaking point, care will suffer for every patient, including those who need emergency care for illnesses, accidents, or chronic conditions unrelated to COVID-19.”

In the past week, the number of COVID-19-attributable deaths has quadrupled, and the average daily case count is seven times higher than it was two months ago.

Levine noted last week that modeling available from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that Pennsylvania will run out of intensive care beds in December.

The IHME’s modeling also projects that if mitigation efforts are not adhered to, Pennsylvania could have more than 32,000 deaths from COVID-19 by Feb. 23, 2021 – that’s in just three months. With universal mask-wearing, those deaths can be reduced by half.

“As the Secretary of Health, I have issued a series of advisories and orders intended to help stop the spread during this critical time, to protect our hospitals, our health care workers, and the lives of our fellow Pennsylvanians,” Levine said.

“Our collective responsibility continues to be to protect our communities, our health care workers, and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians from COVID-19. That has not changed.”

The administration is revising and reissuing its orders to protect businesses, customers, and employees. This order will consolidate previous orders and includes reiterating cleaning, masking, and social distancing requirements, mandatory telework requirements unless impossible, and other safety measures.

Online sales and curbside pickup for all shopping are encouraged. To help with enforcement of existing masking orders in businesses, the administration is introducing liability protection for all businesses that maintain in-person operations and are open to the public. Businesses will receive immunity from civil liability only as related to the secretary’s masking order given that individuals and entities are engaged in essential emergency services activities and disaster services activities when enforcing the order.

The administration is also requiring Pre-K to 12 public schools in counties that have been in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks to commit to safety measures to ensure the safety and well-being of students and educators. If they choose not to, they must move to fully remote learning without all extra-curricular activities. As of Friday, Nov. 20, there are 59 counties in the substantial transmission level for at least two consecutive weeks.

Schools are mandated to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building. By 5 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 30, chief school administrators and the governing body president/chair must sign an attestation form stating they have either transitioned to fully remote learning or are complying with the orders if they are conducting any in-person instruction while in the “substantial” range of transmission.

Those schools that do not sign or comply with an attestation are required to provide only fully remote learning and suspend all extracurricular activities as long as the county remains in the substantial transmission level.

“All of us have a responsibility to slow the spread of this virus so our children can stay or return to the classroom,” Wolf said.

Ramping up enforcement

Orders already in place and those announced today are all enforceable, and law enforcement and state agencies will be stepping up enforcement efforts, issuing citations and fines, and possibly regulatory actions for repeat offenders.

Orders are enforceable as a disease control measure under the Disease Prevention and Control Law. Citations may be written under the Administrative Code of 1929 71 P. S. § 1409 and/or the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955 35 P.S. § 521.20(a). The decision whether to issue a warning or a citation is made on a case-by-case basis and determined by the unique circumstances of each encounter. Persons who fail to comply with an order may be fined between $25 and $300 dollars.

Enforcement agencies include the Pennsylvania State Police, local law enforcement, personnel from the departments of Agriculture and State, and Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores who interact with visitors.

Because a component of enforcement is investigating complaints, the Department of Health, with assistance from other agencies, is bolstering its ability to receive and respond to complaints from customers and employees. The department will continue to investigate complaints provided via its webform and plans to use additional staff from other state agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction to process complaints.

Following a complaint about a business, the Department of Health will send a warning letter informing the business of the potential consequences, including fines and closure if the business is not compliant with the mitigation orders. If a business continues to receive complaints, it risks referral to the Pennsylvania State Police or regulatory agencies, further fines, and possible closure.

“As Pennsylvanians, we have a responsibility to one another, to do what we can to protect each other and preserve the life we all love in this commonwealth,” Wolf said.

“For those who refuse to do their part to protect their neighbors and communities and refuse to accept that their actions have consequences that cause pain and suffering for others, we will be stepping up enforcement of all of the public health orders Dr. Levine and I have put in place.

“We are in a very dangerous situation, and we need to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 right now because if we give in to the virus, we will lose many more Pennsylvanians. And that is unacceptable.”