Editor’s Note: In combination with Monday’s announcement about the easing of restrictions on dining in Pennsylvania, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Restaurant Task Force shared information about a new grant opportunity for local restaurateurs. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s (DCED) COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) offers funding in $5,000 increments (up to $50,000) to eligible hospitality industry businesses including hotels, restaurants, bars and taverns that fall into the following North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes: Accommodations subsector (721) or Food Services and Drinking Places subsector (722).
As distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine continues across Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that restrictions on restaurants and other businesses will ease beginning in April.
The changes, which will take effect on April 4, allow restaurants to resume bar service and allow alcohol sales without the purchase of food. The curfew for alcoholic beverages at tables will be removed and the indoor-dining capacity for self-certified restaurants will increase to 75 percent, while restaurants that do not not self-certify their compliance with the health department’s COVID-19 safety guidelines will be able to increase capacity to 50 percent.
Gyms, casinos, theaters and malls can also begin operating at 75 percent capacity starting next month.
Additionally, Wolf announced that indoor capacity for events can increase to 25 percent of the maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size. Outdoor events can allow 50 percent of the maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size. The new maximum occupancy is permitted only if attendees and workers are able to comply with the six-foot social distancing requirement, according to the statement.
The changes will relieve restaurants, personal service and entertainment facilities from many of the restrictions that have limited operations since the pandemic began last March.
“Pennsylvanians have stepped up and done their part to help curb the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office. “Our case counts continue to go down, hospitalizations are declining and the percent positivity rate gets lower every week–all very positive signs. The number of people getting vaccinated increases daily and we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It’s time to allow our restaurants, bars and other service businesses to get back to more normal operations.”
While many of the restrictions will lift next month, requirements such as mask-wearing and social distancing–including maintaining six feet between diners–will still apply.
“We’ve come so far and now is not the time to stop the safety measures we have in place to protect ourselves, our families and our communities,” Wolf said. “Keep wearing a mask, social distancing, and, please, get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”
The House Republican Caucus responded to the news in a statement.
“While today’s announcement by the Governor is certainly welcome, it has not come soon enough and does not go far enough to help Pennsylvania’s workers, small businesses and hospitality industry recover from a year’s-worth of unprecedented Wolf administration-mandated shutdowns,” House GOP spokesman Jason Gottesman said.
“Pennsylvania continues to lag behind some of our neighboring states in how aggressively we are reopening our economy. If we continue with these short-sighted half measures, we may put ourselves in a position of competitive weakness and lose out on our opportunity to make Pennsylvania the envy of the East,” Gottesman said.
In a short statement from the House Democratic Caucus, spokesperson Bill Patton defended the long-standing restrictions issued by Wolf.
“Ultimately the COVID-19 virus sets the timetable,” Patton said. “Our governor is being prudent with decisions that carry large impacts. It’s the right approach.”
A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.