Wolf announces three-week shutdown of indoor dining, gyms, casinos and more

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday that for three weeks, extracurricular activities in schools will be suspended, indoor dining will be prohibited, and gyms, casinos, bowling alleys, movie theaters and other indoor recreational facilities will be shut down.

The restrictions will begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and end at 8 a.m. Jan. 4.

"I'm asking that we work together to turn the tide of this surge so that our communities can safely bridge the gap between where we stand today and when a vaccine is widely available," Wolf said.

In-person retail stores will have to operate at 50% capacity. Indoor events will be limited to no more than 10 people, and outdoor events will be limited to 50 people.

In response to a question about how business owners, especially bar and restaurant owners, would be severely impacted by this order, Wolf said it's not the government that's putting people out of work, it's the virus.

Wolf's comments came as the state Health Department reported 11,972 additional COVID-19 cases and 248 new deaths linked to the disease on Thursday. There were 5,852  patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and 1,191 of them were in intensive care units.

On Wednesday, Wolf announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican, issued a statement earlier Thursday urging the governor not to implement a new shutdown just before Christmas.

"Nine months into this pandemic, we know overbroad government orders do more long-term harm than good, economically, emotionally and mentally," Benninghoff stated.

Wolf's new restrictions come as other governors in the country also instituted new restrictions in response to spiking COVID-19 infection rates.

This week, for example, both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, announced their states would roll back reopening plans and implement a variety of new mitigation efforts.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week also announced a regional stay-at-home order.

Concerns have largely centered around how case increases are straining hospitals, a problem that health officials expect to worsen as flu season progresses, Wolf and other governors have said.

Wolf on Monday admitted that his administration's most recent attempts to tamp down a surge in COVID-19 cases failed, teasing the possibility of new restrictions.

On Nov. 23, Wolf implemented new limitations on gatherings and required schools to certify they would comply with safety guidelines if they intended to continue in-person instruction.

The November restrictions were less severe than the ones he implemented in March, which included business shutdown orders that sparked significant backlash from Republicans and businesses.

Hospitals throughout the state have recently indicated that they are being stretched thin, expressing fears that, if surges continue, they won't be able to handle the influx of patients.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to media at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In York County, 227 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as of noon Wednesday. There were no pediatric ICU beds available, and ventilators were at half capacity.

Though hospitalizations and ventilator usage have increased over the last month, the availability of beds, such as adult ICU beds and surgical and medical beds, has fluctuated.

“Now is the time to slow the spread of the virus — before it overwhelms our health care heroes and we aren’t able to fulfill our mission to the community,” top WellSpan Health officials wrote in a subsequent op-ed published in The York Dispatch.

On Thursday, the increase in hospitalizations prompted WellSpan Health to redeploy staff, limit elective surgeries and create an acute care unit because of staffing shortages.

In the announcement from the operator of York Hospital, officials said the health system would relocate staff from the Apple Hill Surgery Center in York Township to the converted acute care hospital at the WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital, also in York Township.

York County has seen an average of 1,139 cases per 100,000 people over the previous 14 days, a common metric to compare cases among municipalities. In the past seven days alone, there were 3,143 new cases.

Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 3, York County had a 14.8% infection rate, up 2.7 percentage points from the previous seven-day period. The local figure is 0.4 percentage points above the statewide average of 14.4%.

In December, the county has averaged 433 new cases per day, by far the highest on record.

As of Thursday, York County had 15,531 COVID-19 cases and 280 deaths linked to the disease. Statewide, there were 457,289 cases and 12,010 deaths.

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