'The epidemic is not over:' Philadelphia warns restaurants to follow safety guidelines for outdoor dining

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020
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Philadelphia health commissioner issues warning to restaurants on social distancing protocols

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- "The epidemic is not over."

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley had a strong warning for businesses, specifically concerning outside dining, during the city's Tuesday afternoon press briefing on the coronavirus - follow the rules or risk being shut down.

Dr. Farley called outdoor dining an area of concern.

It has been 11 days since Philadelphia and the entire Southeastern Pennsylvania region moved into the yellow phase of Governor Tom Wolf's reopening plan. One of the big changes from red to yellow meant restaurants could offer outdoor dining.

Philadelphia, however, waited a week longer than the rest of the region to resume outside seating at restaurants.

Farley said since Friday, he received reports of restaurants not following the city's 'Safe Mode' safety checklist; he added that he saw this himself.

"There were people dining at different tables less than six feet apart, there were people in crowds, people talking in crowds not wearing masks," Farley said.

Nicole Marquis, owner of three Philadelphia restaurants, including Bar Bombon on S. 18th Street, has been following the rules trying to keep her staff and customers safe.

"Our number one priority is to do it with complete caution, complete sanitation, social distancing and keeping people six feet apart," said Marquis.

The general Safety Checklist includes these eight items:

  • Masks - block the virus from spreading from infected persons by wearing masks and requiring others to wear them
  • Barriers - use sneeze guards or plexiglass screens to prevent respiratory droplets expelled by infected persons from reaching others
  • Isolate - keep people who might be carrying the virus safely away from others (ideally at home)
  • Distance - maintain space between people to reduce the chance that one infected individual will infect others
  • Reduce crowds - decrease the number of people that an infected person could pass the virus to if other steps are not successful
  • Handwashing - reduce the spread of virus from one person to another from touching contaminated surfaces
  • Clean - remove respiratory droplets that may contain virus from surfaces that people may touch
  • Communicate - ensure staff, customers, and others taking part in permitted activities understand this Safety Checklist

Farley asked city residents if they see a restaurant violating the safety checklist to not eat there and report the location to 311.

Farley said the city wants to help restaurants who have been hit hard during the pandemic, but owners have to conduct their business safely.

"My real concern is if people aren't following the rules now at restaurants outdoors, will they follow when restaurant indoor dining is allowed?" Farley said.

The city health commissioner said, while outdoor exposures are less risky than indoor, the virus can spread when people are close together and not wearing masks no matter where that is taking place.

"The virus hasn't changed, human biology hasn't changed, so Philadelphia is just as vulnerable to an epidemic wave in June as it was in March," Farley said. "This epidemic isn't over. Far from it. Until we have a vaccine, the only thing protecting us is how we behave."

Farley said they will be enforcing the rules for restaurants that have outdoor dining. The health department will be visiting the restaurants and issuing warnings. If the owners refuse to comply, the department will cease the operations of the restaurants.

On Tuesday, the city reported 116 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing a citywide total to 24,591.

There were 21 more deaths, bringing the total to 1,495. Farley said the number is higher due to periodic matching with state databases, which helps identify additional deaths that were previously not reported as COVID-related.