Wolf to let some COVID-19 lockdown measures expire on Monday

MARK SCOLFORO
Associated Press
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during his press conference at PA CareerLink in York Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Wolf was highlighting the importance of job-finding resources in light of the unemployment cause by the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Bill Kalina photo

HARRISBURG — Additional restrictions that were imposed in Pennsylvania almost three weeks ago to combat the COVID-19 pandemic will expire as expected early next week, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday.

“This does not mean that we’re out of the woods. Not by any means,” Wolf said during an online news conference. "We still have significant mitigation orders in place.”

Wolf says that on Monday morning, the regulations he imposed as of Dec. 12 will end. Wolf temporarily halted school sports and other extracurricular activities, closed gyms, theaters and casinos, and banned indoor dining at restaurants in response to the worsening pandemic.

More:At least three York County restaurants ordered to close

More:Judge rejects restaurants' challenge of Pennsylvania's indoor dining ban

The restrictions have included an indoor gathering limit of 10, an outdoor gathering limit of 50 and capacity restrictions at retail stores.

The temporary ban on sports has extended to K-12 public schools, nonpublic schools, private schools and sports at the club, travel, recreational and intramural levels.

Republican state lawmakers and business groups have opposed the additional restrictions, and on Wednesday state House Republicans called them unwise and unwarranted.

“When we return to session next week, the House Republican Caucus will begin work on an economic recovery plan for all Pennsylvanians that will help ensure these destructive shutdowns and restrictions never happen again," said House GOP spokesperson Jason Gottesman.

The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said it welcomed the end of the three-week ban on in-person dining, but noted the closure came during what is normally a lucrative holiday period for bars and restaurants.

The association asked lawmakers to authorize grants to help the hospitality sector of the economy. It also called on Wolf to allow patrons to sit at bars, saying that such a policy change would provide relief to corner bars and similar small taverns that do not have room for tables where indoor dining is currently permitted.

The governor's announcement came just as court officials were releasing a judge's decision turning down a request by a group of restaurants and bars for a preliminary injunction against Wolf's three-week shutdown order.

Commonwealth Court Judge Drew Crompton noted the limited time frame of the shutdown and said that because people have to remove masks to eat and drink, “bars and restaurants are not disproportionately discriminated against as a class as compared to other similarly situated businesses.”

The state Health Department reported Wednesday there were nearly 9,000 additional positive cases in Pennsylvania, 319 deaths and about 6,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

As health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are being vaccinated with the first shipments of vaccine to the state, Wolf predicted it will be “months, not weeks” until those efforts reach the general public.

“The rest of us are going to need to be patient until it’s our turn,” said Wolf, a Democrat.

In a state of nearly 13 million people, Pennsylvania hospitals have so far vaccinated more than 96,000 health care workers. Vaccination at nursing homes and other skilled nursing facilities began this week.

The state Health Department on Wednesday began posting online demographic information about who has been vaccinated.