Half-full or half-empty? Gov. Wolf eases capacity restrictions on restaurants


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Since mid-July, restaurants in Pennsylvania have been starved for customers.

Governor Tom Wolf’s orders required that they drop from 50 percent of indoor capacity to 25 percent, in efforts to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Fewer customers has forced many establishments to close.

But Tuesday, Wolf relented a bit and announced that on Sept. 21, restaurants can go back to being half-full, at 50 percent indoor capacity.

“We don’t want to drive the restaurant industry out of business,” conceded Dr. Rachel Levine, PA Health Secretary, in why the administration will ease restrictions.

“It’s a step in the right direction but not far enough,” said John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Longstreet says there are still problematic components to the new rules, like patrons not being allowed to sit at the bar or the requirement that they have to order food with drinks.

“If you want to stop on the way home from work and have a glass of beer, socially distanced with a facemask, you can’t do it unless you order a meal,” Longstreet said.

Rep. Mike Jones (R-York) calls them unnecessary hoops.

“We need to get rid of the food purchase requirement. That’s nonsense,” said Jones, who introduced a bill two weeks ago that would’ve allowed restaurants to operate at 50-percent capacity and was very similar to Wolf’s new order.

But Jones dislikes a Wolf rule that restaurants can’t sell alcohol after 10 p.m.

“God love ’em but they seem to keep making things up as they go along,” Jones said of the Wolf administration. “I would love to see the science that something magically happens after 10 o’clock.”

But Levine insists that the science is showing a spike in cases among 19-to-24-year-olds who tend to hang out in watering holes after hours. The restrictions are aimed at reducing infections, she said.

“We don’t want people to congregate while they’re drinking,” Levine said. “We don’t want people to be at bars.”

In terms of restaurant capacity, the glass may be half full. But industry representatives worry it’s on its way to half empty if more isn’t done.

“We’re about ready to put as many as 7,500 restaurants out of business if we don’t get this fixed and get it fixed quickly,” Longstreet said, adding that with 580,000 workers, the industry is the second largest employers in Pennsylvania.

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