HARRISBURG (AP) — Pennsylvania bar and restaurant owners said Tuesday they have been unfairly blamed for rising virus case numbers, challenging the Wolf administration to provide evidence and blasting the Democratic governor anew over pandemic restrictions they say will drive many of them out of business.
Wolf cited rising infection rates in some hot spots when he imposed a new round of restrictions on bars and restaurants two weeks ago. Occupancy was reduced from 50% to 25% capacity, and alcohol can only be served with meals.
Riki Tanaka, who owns three restaurants in lightly impacted McKean County, in the rural northwest, told a state House panel it makes no sense and “flat out isn’t fair” to lump eateries in his region with those in virus hot spots like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
He said no restaurant can survive under the limitations imposed by Wolf, noting he had to furlough dozens of workers.
“Give us a fighting chance,” he implored. “Let me operate my business.”
Tanaka and other restaurant owners and industry officials testified at a hearing arranged by House Republicans.
John Longstreet, head of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, a trade group, said there is no proof that limiting restaurants to 25% capacity is more effective at preventing the spread of the virus than 50%. He warned that thousands of establishments are in danger of closing permanently without relief from the state.
The Department of Health has not released statewide statistics to support its contention that bars and restaurants are fueling higher case numbers. But contact tracing data compiled by Allegheny County — the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s rising case numbers in July — yielded evidence that employees and patrons at bars and restaurants helped drive the spread there, state health officials said.
“Limiting places where congregation occurs and masking is impossible (while eating and drinking) is a logical step to prevent further spread,” the health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said in written testimony to the House panel.
As the restaurant and bar industry fights to survive Wolf’s latest round of coronavirus restrictions, indoor dining in Philadelphia will have to wait a little longer.
In a Tuesday news conference, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley cited rising case numbers and predicted the situation will be “worse before it gets better.”
The city pushed the restart of indoor dining to Sept. 1. It had originally said restaurants could offer indoor table service in early July, with social distancing measures and restrictions on seating and occupancy, before postponing that to August.
ANOTHER PHILLIES GAME POSTPONED
The Phillies’ game against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night was postponed for the second straight day amid coronavirus concerns in the wake of an outbreak involving another team.
Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi confirmed the decision in an interview with MLB Network Radio.
The Phillies were having a second round of COVID-19 tests Tuesday following an outbreak among the Miami Marlins, who played a weekend series in Philadelphia.
NURSING HOME TESTING
All of Pennsylvania’s 693 nursing homes have completed baseline testing of residents and staff, the Health Department said.
The Wolf administration had ordered nursing homes to test all residents and staff at least once, having backed off an earlier demand for weekly testing amid concerns over practicality, cost and availability of testing supplies.
Residents of long-term care homes account for more than two-thirds of the statewide death toll. Care homes struggled for months to contain the virus, with many lacking the trained staff, testing supplies and personal protective equipment in the early going that could have helped them slow the spread, public health experts say.
Pennsylvania reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday for the third time in less than a week and the sixth time this month as some regions of the state continue to see increased spread.
An additional 1,120 people tested positive for the virus, raising the statewide total to more than 109,000 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the state Health Department.
Health officials reported 24 new deaths, raising the death toll to 7,146.
The Health Department has cited 14 counties with a “concerning” percentage of tests coming back positive. Those counties are scattered throughout the state and include Beaver, Armstrong, Franklin, Mercer, Allegheny, Lawrence, Chester, Philadelphia, Fayette, York, Dauphin, Delaware, Bedford and Greene.
Statewide, the state’s seven-day positivity rate has gradually increased in July, from about 4.5% to almost 6%, according to Health Department data.
Deaths have declined from June to July, although hospitalizations have been on the rise, according to state data.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.