At least three York County restaurants ordered to close
At least three York County restaurants have been ordered to shutter after violating a state mandate meant to curtail the spread of COVID-19, according to state officials.
As of Tuesday, when the county reported a record-breaking 15 deaths linked to COVID-19, Round the Clock Diner locations in Springettsbury and Manchester townships, continued serving food.
Restaurants receiving closure orders are supposed to completely close, according to the Department of Agriculture.
"They’re closed by order, and if they’re continuing to operate, they’re referred to the Department of Health for further legal action," said Shannon Powers, the spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture.
Restaurants can still conduct certain types of businesses under the order, such as selling gift cards by mail, but the kitchens must remain shuttered until they're cleared by the state, Powers said.
Mamma's Pizza in Wellsville, which also was ordered to close, was fulfilling take-out orders, its owner said.
Round the Clock Diner was ordered by the state Department of Agriculture to close Monday, according to a Facebook post by its owner, Themistokles Sacarellos. Mamma's Pizza was ordered to close Dec. 18, according to the department's website.
Still, restaurant owners violating the mandate remained steadfast.
"Christmas + New Years Card from the State: Wolf and Levine, we will not close. We the people have spoken, open your EARS!" Sacarellos wrote on Facebook.
Its windows were covered with what appeared to be white paper or paint, making it impossible to see inside. A spokesperson did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Mamma's Pizza owner Ron Rutherford on Wednesday said his dining room was not operational the previous day and the business was serving take-out service only.
As COVID-19 cases continued to surge throughout the state, Gov. Tom Wolf on Dec. 10 announced that, for three weeks, indoor dining would be prohibited. The order is in effect until 8 a.m. on Jan. 4.
Despite massive backlash, legal challenges to the order have failed.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner denied a petition filed by two restaurant owners and a Hershey-area restaurant trade association that claimed the order was unconstitutional, reported The Associated Press.
Regardless, as was the case during past shutdown orders, which Round the Clock Diner also defied this summer, at least some restaurants are ignoring the orders, which have throttled the hospitality industry throughout 2020.
"You're potentially making your friends and relatives sick, and possibly even killing them," York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said Tuesday when expressing concerns that residents are ignoring safety guidelines and holding public gatherings.
The state is still threatening a variety of penalties if businesses don't comply. But it's unclear when, and if, all businesses that are not complying with mitigation efforts will see consequences.
"If a restaurant continues to stay open in defiance of the close by orders notice, then the department would forward the issue to the Department of Health for further action," Powers said Tuesday.
However, there was no timeline for when a violating restaurant could expect the penalties to be levied, she said.
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.
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.
Between Dec. 14 and Sunday, the state Department of Agriculture had ordered 73 businesses statewide to close. There were also 134 inspections due to coronavirus-related complaints and 180 warnings.
Three of those inspections and 13 of those warnings occurred at York County restaurants.
As of noon Tuesday, York County had 22,537 COVID-19 cases and 394 deaths linked to the disease. Statewide, there were 622,349 cases and 15,353 deaths.
— Reporter Erin Bamer contributed to this story.