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Businesses ignore Wolf's closure order as COVID-19 cases surge

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Customers wait in line outside Round the Clock Diner on Route 30, not only for take-out orders but also to have their first sit-down mean in a restaurant since the start of Governor Wolf's COVID-19 shutdown. After learning that the York County District Attorney's office would not enforce criminal penalties due to Governor Wolf's shutdown orders, Round the Clock Diner opened to eat-in customers Sunday, May 10, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Local businesses have already begun flouting Gov. Tom Wolf's most recent COVID-19 shutdown orders as cases skyrocket and enforcement measures fail to compel some owners to close their doors.

But Wolf's administration is not deviating from its enforcement measures employed earlier this year despite ongoing cases of noncompliance with his mandates. It's a phased approach nearly identical to what was seen in July, which ranges from simple warnings to complete business closures, officials said.

"In other words, (enforcement) hasn't changed," said Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger, who declined to answer questions as to why the administration would not implement harsher measures amid continued instances of noncompliance.

Meanwhile, York County on Tuesday reported 10 deaths linked to COVID-19, breaking the previous record set on Dec. 1, when there were eight deaths.

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

More:York County COVID-19 death toll approaches 300

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, which came after Wolf admitted previous efforts had failed, began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and are scheduled to end at 8 a.m. Jan. 4.

Some local businesses, however, have openly violated the order, although officials with Wolf's administration said most appear to be following the new restrictions on commerce. 

Both Round The Clock Diner locations, located in Manchester and Springettsbury townships, for example, still are serving customers in their dining rooms. 

Over the summer, the diner paid thousands of dollars in fines for operating without a license, which was temporarily revoked for continuing dine-in services during Wolf's last shutdown order.

"Open 24 Hours per day, 7 days a week!" read a post Saturday on the diner's Facebook page.

In addition, Crunch Fitness in York City also remains open, announced regional manager Jonathan Cardona in an Instagram post on Sunday.

The open defiance of Wolf's orders come as the state continues to see surges in COVID-19 cases, a trend also seen in York County.

And Republicans in the state Legislature are openly criticizing Wolf's new mandates, emphasizing personal responsibility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 rather than lockdowns, Spotlight PA reported.

The county itself had seen an average of 1,445 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 3,375 new cases. 

One month ago, the county had an average of 297 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.

York County also had an 18% infection rate between Dec. 4 and Dec. 10, the most recent data made available by the state Health Department. 

That's an increase of 2.6 percentage points over the previous seven-day period, and 1.8 percentage points higher than the statewide infection rate of 16.2%.

As cases continue to surge, the state's current system to penalize businesses not complying with Wolf's orders is made possible through the Disease Control and Prevention Act of 1955.

An agency's decision to issue a warning or a citation is made on a case-by-case basis, but continued noncompliance can lead to fines, licenses being suspended or licenses being revoked entirely.

If a restaurant continues to operate without a license, it can be fined as much as $10,000 per day. The business can also be forced to close entirely.

In addition to general enforcement, individuals can report noncompliance on the Department of State website.

Once vetted by a department, the complaints are typically handled by the state police or local law enforcement.

The state police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement alone has conducted nearly 60,000 checks since July of last year, 1,828 of which led to warnings and 417 of which led to citations.

Although York-specific data was not available, in the south-central region, there have been 3,031 checks, 210 warnings and 43 citations during that time period.

As of noon Tuesday, York County had 17,811 COVID-19 cases and 306 deaths linked to the disease. Statewide, there were 509,320 cases and 12,890 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.