Pennsylvania to lift COVID mitigation orders, except masking, on Memorial Day

Philadelphia officials are reviewing this plan, but no changes yet for the city

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Pa. to lift COVID mitigation orders, except masking, on Memorial Day
This means capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and indoor and outdoor gatherings will go away on May 31.

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania will lift all COVID-19 restrictions - except an order to wear a mask while in public - on Memorial Day, the Wolf administration announced Tuesday.

Capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants and indoor and outdoor gatherings will go away on May 31, more than a year into the pandemic.

The state made the announcement with little fanfare, via news release.

"We continue to make significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts," Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said in the statement.

The Health Department said an order requiring people to wear masks while away from home will be lifted once 70% of Pennsylvanians aged 18 and older are fully vaccinated. That percentage stood at nearly 42% on Tuesday, according to federal data, while 63% of those 18 and older had at least one dose.

While opinions vary on whether that goal can be achieve, some people are not comfortable doing away with mitigation mandates.

"I'm kinda not liking it because you gotta be safe. You want to always stay safe, like I think everybody just try to stay in the house, like try to social distance," said Michael Sheard of Norristown.

"'I'm not sure, honestly we don't know with everything going on, I don't know what's good and what's not good for now. I'm ok with restrictions," added Gabriella Castanon of Norristown.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that Pennsylvania will lift COVID-19 mitigation orders on Memorial Day, with the exception of masking.

Pennsylvania revised its masking order last week to bring it in line with new federal recommendations that say fully vaccinated people don't have to wear them outside anymore unless they're at a crowded event.

The Health Department said that municipalities and school districts can continue to impose their own restrictions. And other state mandates, including a requirement that hospitals and long-term care facilities report new infections, will remain.

Tuesday's announcement promised relief for the state's beleaguered restaurant industry, which has complained for months about capacity restrictions.

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"The definitive timeline will allow owners and operators time to plan, but for far too many businesses who shuttered over the last few months, this announcement is too late," said John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said on Tuesday afternoon that the city is aware of this plan and will review, but for now is not making any changes to its COVID restrictions.

The City of Philadelphia can modify COVID restrictions issued by the state based on local conditions.

This was good news for suburban businesses, including restaurants, more than a year after restrictions shuttered many establishments.

In Havertown, Delaware County, the timing is perfect for The Crossbar. Newly hired chef Sean Keenan said the announcement comes just in time to release his new summer menu.

"Excellent timing with summer around the corner," said Keenan. "We'll have to be prepared staffing-wise, as we get bigger orders for the people who want to come in and enjoy our food and the atmosphere here."

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While other states are lifting capacity restrictions, they are still keeping orders to maintain a six-foot distance.

However, the Wolf administration officials are only encouraging that a six-foot distance is maintained.

In Ardmore, some business owners said this is news they've been waiting for.

"We just heard about the restrictions being lifted and that's something we're really excited about," said Sydney Grims of the White Dog Cafe in Ardmore.

Grims also says it's time to hire some new employees.

"We're happy to take really anyone we can get at this point," she said.

Jamie Weber, co-owner of Flanagan's Boat House in Conshohocken, is worried about getting enough help.

"Honestly my first thought was we don't have enough help, I mean that sincerely. We do not have a huge help. Everyone is struggling in the restaurant business for help," said Weber.

It's a relief for Amy Gaber at the Hope Chest women's loungewear next door from the White Dog Cafe. She says they survived the last year with online sales.

"It's been hard. But we got a great website up and running," said Amy Gaber.

Now she says they want customers to come back and shop in person.

"We're back and probably better than ever," said Gaber.

Dr. Darren Mareiniss, an emergency medicine doctor with Einstein Health, said that from a medical standpoint he would be reluctant to lift capacity limits for indoor dining and bars on Memorial Day, calling them high-risk locations for transmitting the virus.

"I don't necessarily agree with it, but I think it's a reasonable approach, and providing an incentive, really. If you get to that 70% level of vaccination, you may not get to total herd immunity. You will, however, impair the ability of the virus to spread in the community, and you could justify maybe that we can de-escalate some of the mitigation and mask mandates," said Mareiniss.

The following was released by Wolf's office Tuesday afternoon:

The Wolf administration, in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, announced today that mitigation orders except masking will be lifted on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31 at 12:01 AM.

The current order requiring Pennsylvanians to wear masks will be lifted when 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Face coverings are required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home. In accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians are not required to wear a mask during certain activities.
"We continue to make significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts," Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam said. "I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing."

Requirements such as testing and reporting new cases will remain in place for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Maintaining requirements for hospitals and long-term care facilities will allow Pennsylvania to continue to closely monitor COVID-19 spread while lifting other restrictions.

The Department of Health recommends that Pennsylvanians refer to CDC guidance and recommendations regarding ongoing COVID-19 safety measures and procedures.

These updates will not prevent municipalities and school districts from continuing and implementing stricter mitigation efforts.

"With millions of Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated, it's time to plan the transition back to normal," said Sen. Art Haywood. Hospitalizations and deaths are down. This action today is a key step forward."

"While the restrictions that were put in place at the outset of the pandemic have been a major source of frustration for many Pennsylvanians and businesses, it is the collaborative work of this bipartisan Task Force that is allowing us to finally roll back the restrictions and get back to normal life," said Sen. Ryan Aument.

"I'm thrilled after more than a year that we are able to lift these restrictions so that we can move to more normal life," said Rep. Tim O'Neal. "This will help grow our economy and assist our small businesses that have sacrificed so much due to COVID-19. Thank you to Pennsylvanians who have chosen to be vaccinated. Your efforts have helped us arrive at today."

"I am proud of the progress we have made with vaccinations throughout Pennsylvania," said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski. "Lifting mitigation orders on Memorial Day and announcing that masking orders will be lifted once 70 percent of Pennsylvania's adults are fully vaccinated are all benefits from following the scientific medical research and data. Many sacrifices had been made over the past year while we waited for help. The help is now here in the form of a vaccine and we must do everything we can to encourage everyone to receive their vaccination so we can overcome this pandemic. Let's follow the science, because it's the path to us all returning to normalcy."

The governor's Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic remains in place.

All Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine. The provider map is available on the Department of Health's website. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.