Gov. Wolf shuts dine-in service at restaurants in 5 counties
HARRISBURG — In a new front to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dine-in facilities starting Monday in five heavily populated counties, including Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh, and the four counties ringing Philadelphia.
The order, issued late Sunday night, followed Pittsburgh's announcement of a ban on public gatherings of 50 people or more, tightening an earlier restriction Sunday to bring it in line with new guidelines from federal health officials.
The bans begin Monday morning.
Wolf's order to bars and restaurants toughens a posture toward private businesses in Philadelphia's suburbs in which Wolf had urged business to do “what's right." The order applies to Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties, where one-fourth of Pennsylvania's population lives. It prohibits eating and drinking inside restaurants and bars for at least 14 days, but does not bar delivery and drive-through service.
The administration will reevaluate the decision after 14 days, Wolf said in the statement.
“Ensuring the health and safety of Pennsylvanians is the highest priority as the state grapples with a growing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, and as the virus continues to spread, it is in the best interest of the public to encourage social distancing by closing restaurants and bars temporarily,” Gov. Wolf said. “I understand that this is disruptive to businesses as well as patrons who just want to enjoy themselves, but in the best interest of individuals and families in the mitigation counties, we must take this step.”
Businesses that do not adhere to the order could face penalties, Wolf's administration said. In the preceding days, Wolf had urged “non-essential” businesses in the suburban Philadelphia counties to close, but he did not threaten penalties.
His administration is trying to connect businesses to financial assistance that might help offset the impact of closing, it said.
Allegheny County had separately asked nonessential businesses to close for 14 days.
The measures were announced as officials said one of the state's new positive cases of the coronavirus is a staffer at Lehigh Valley Hospital-17th Street. It's the first positive case in Lehigh County.
A look at the other developments in Pennsylvania:
King of Prussia mall, one of the nation's largest, announced that it was closed.
The mall is in suburban Philadelphia's Montgomery County, Pennsylvania's hardest hit by the virus, with at least 24 cases out of the state's total. The security office of the mall said Sunday that the mall was closed until further notice.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Sunday confirmed 16 additional positive cases of the coronavirus, the majority in the Philadelphia area and one more in western Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, which saw its first two cases earlier in the weekend. That brings the state's official total to at least 63.
According to a statement from Lehigh Valley Health Network, the hospital staffer — whose position was not disclosed — experienced symptoms as early as March 3. The Allentown staffer had met with patients and had contact with colleagues. All have been notified. The person has not been at the hospital since March 5 and is in isolation at home, the hospital network said.
Health officials said all of the people affected were either in isolation at home or being treated at hospitals.
The confirmed cases largely have been traced back to contact with the new coronavirus in another state or country. Most people are at home in isolation, officials say; a few are hospitalized.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The vast majority of people recover.
Delaware County emergency and health officials said GEO Group, which runs the county's George W. Hill Correctional Facility, had received confirmation that a prison employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
Twenty-three prison employees who had been in contact with the individual were advised to self-quarantine at home. Eleven inmates who had been in contact with the infected employee were placed in quarantine in a separate unit of the prison.
All are being tested and none have shown any symptoms of the virus, officials said.
“This is an example of how one infected person affects countless others," county officials said in a statement. “One positive case led to quarantining 34 others. We are seeing this around the country. It can cripple vital services like health care and emergency first responders."
— The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
— This story has been updated to correct one instance of outdated numbers of cases statewide, to 63 instead of 47.