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Appeals court allows Pennsylvania to restrict crowd size

MICHAEL RUBINKAM
The Associated Press
Fans celebrate during football action between West York and Central York at West High School in York, Pa. on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015.

A federal appeals court on Thursday temporarily restored Pennsylvania’s pandemic restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, putting on hold a judge’s ruling that threw out statewide limits on crowd size.

The ruling came as several school districts in York County were set Friday to begin permitting more fans at athletic events. 

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, may once again enforce size limits on gatherings while it appeals the lower court order.

U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV in Pittsburgh, an appointee of President Donald Trump, had ruled against the state’s size limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, saying they violate citizens’ constitutional rights to assemble. The state has been enforcing a gathering limit of 25 people for events held indoors and 250 people for those held outside.

Stickman’s Sept. 14 order prompted many Pennsylvania schools districts to allow more fans in the stands at high school football games and other athletic contests.

The appellate ruling may upend plans to permit more spectators at sporting events in at least three school districts in York County. 

Spring Grove's school board voted Monday to allow 665 spectators into its football stadium and 122 into its girls’ volleyball matches. That number excluded athletes, coaches, officials and event staff.

On Tuesday, West York's school board voted to increase crowd size to 25% of capacity for home athletic events inside and 50% for outside.

And this past week, Eastern York’s school board voted to allow 312 spectators to attend football games and 108 spectators to attend girls’ volleyball matches.

The office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro asked the 3rd Circuit to intervene, saying crowd-size limits are a “life-saving mitigation tool” to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Stickman had also invalidated other Wolf administration pandemic orders that required people to stay at home and mandated “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down. Those orders have since lapsed, and Wolf has said he has no plans to enforce them again.

— Dispatch reporter Ron Musselman contributed to this report.