Pennsylvania restaurants, bars to see some pandemic limits lifted in April

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will expand more business and event capacity limits and lift a raft of long-standing coronavirus restrictions on bar service starting on Easter Sunday, giving some relief to one of the hardest-hit business sectors, his administration said Monday.

The announcement relaxing capacity limits on events is the second time Wolf has taken such a step this month as spring sports seasons start up and virus-related hospitalizations continue to decline.

The relief is still three weeks away, meaning bars and restaurants will still have to live with the current limits during St. Patrick's Day celebrations and the NCAA Tournament's March Madness craze.

But, starting April 4, patrons can saddle up to the bar and get alcohol service without the purchase of food in Pennsylvania.

"This could be the best day in the past year. Me being in the beer business, this means our beer sales are going to double, maybe triple. It's going to help more the local people," said John Antonius of Conshohocken.

"Bar seating is tremendous," said Mike Hamilton, general manager at the Great American Pub in Conshohocken.

He is very glad to finally be able to use all three bars in the building again.

"Huge contribution to get people sitting back at the bar," said Hamilton.

Bar and restaurant capacity will be upped to 75% from the current 50%, though customers will still need to be six feet apart.

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The announcement is a boon for bar owners like Tom Thornton who owns McGillicuddy's in Havertown.

"I don't say it's about time but I am happy that we are this moment," said Thronton. "It's a been a year, a hard year for the restaurant industry."

Thornton and others have adapted their businesses to stay afloat including expanding takeout service.

Kathy Murphy owns Tip O'Learys in Havertown.

"It has been hard," said Murphy. "You just try to do the best you can do and hope you pay your bills each month."

Many customers say it is about time.

"I think it's wonderful," said Patrice Scalpato or Ardmore. "I think it's important for people to come in socialize with one another and I think it's important for businesses as well."

Thornton said he is not sure if everyone will be onboard to head indoors.

"I think some people are ready for it and some people will still be a little cautious and that's fine," he said.

Gyms, malls and casinos will also be allowed to increase capacity to 75%.

Outdoor venues like Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park would be allowed 50% capacity, but it is unclear if Philadelphia will follow state guidelines.

A spokesperson for the City of Philadelphia said officials will review the governor's announcement before deciding whether it would follow suit.

"We will review any new changes to statewide restrictions issued by the governor and determine what makes sense for Philadelphia based on our local conditions. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, Philadelphia is able to remain more restrictive than the state when it comes to Covid-19 mitigation guidance."

Indoor events like concerts and sports events will be restricted to 25% capacity.

The following list of changes was released by Gov. Wolf's office Monday:

RESTAURANTS:

-Restaurants may resume bar service;

-Alcohol service will be allowed without the purchase of food;

-The curfew for removing alcoholic drinks from tables will be lifted;

-Indoor dining capacity will be raised to 75 percent for those restaurants that are currently self-certified and those that undergo the self-certification process, which involves agreeing to strictly comply to all public health safety guidelines and orders, including the cleaning and mitigation protocols and other operational requirements contained in the Governor and Secretary of Health's mitigation and enforcement orders issued on November 23, 2020, as amended.
-Those restaurants that do not self-certify may raise capacity to 50 percent.

-Outdoor dining, curbside pick-up and takeout are still encouraged.

-Requirements such as mask-wearing, and social distancing, including 6 feet between diners, also still apply.

OTHER BUSINESSES

-Capacity for other businesses also will be increased effective April 4, including moving personal services facilities, gyms and entertainment facilities (casinos, theatres, malls) to 75 percent occupancy.

EVENTS:

-Maximum occupancy limits for indoor events to allow for 25% of maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size;

-Maximum occupancy limits for outdoor events to allow for 50% of maximum occupancy, regardless of venue size.

-Maximum occupancy is permitted only if attendees and workers are able to comply with the 6-foot physical distancing requirement.

"Pennsylvanians have stepped up and done their part of help curb the spread of COVID-19," Gov. Wolf said in a statement. "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."

Wolf also urged everyone to continue wearing masks, keep socially distant, and follow safety orders.

"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," Gov. Wolf said. "Keep wearing a mask, social distancing, and, please, get vaccinated when it's your turn."

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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