EDITORIAL: Wolf's changes to venue restrictions long overdue, but should provide clarity

  • Gov. Tom Wolf has updated the state's restrictions on gatherings for indoor and outdoor venues.
  • An outdoor stadium with a 2,000-seat capacity can now have 500 people at a gathering.
  • An indoor venue with a 1,000-seat capacity can now have 200 people at a gathering.
Gov. Tom Wolf talks with a group during his press conference at PA CareerLink in York Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

At last, clarity and common sense have prevailed.

That was likely the feeling across much of Pennsylvania on Tuesday when Gov. Tom Wolf's administration finally updated its restrictions on gatherings at both indoor and outdoor venues.

It was long overdue.

Parents of high school athletes have been in an uproar for the past month because they’ve often been denied the opportunity to watch their children compete in person. Many of those parents were especially concerned that they wouldn't be allowed at an event when their child might suffer a serious injury.

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Wolf’s previous limits of 25 people for indoor events and 250 people for outdoor events were unnecessarily severe, especially considering those totals included players, coaches, officials, trainers, administrators and the media.

That left precious little room for parents.

COVID-19 is a real danger: Yes, we understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is a real and present danger to all of us. We believe in wearing masks, washing your hands and social distancing.

We’re not talking about permitting packed facilities with fans sitting elbow to elbow, although that is something that Wolf has allowed to happen all summer at dirt tracks across Pennsylvania with no penalty or enforcement, but that’s another story.

No, we’re talking about allowing parents the chance to see their kids play in a responsible and socially-distant manner.

Wolf’s updated restrictions should allow that to happen.

Gov. Wolf relaxes spectator limits, will allow some fans at games

The new limits: For outdoor events with an occupancy of up to 2,000 people, a 25% occupancy is allowed. For outdoor events with an occupancy of 2,001-10,000 people, 20% of occupancy is allowed, and for events with over 10,000 occupancy, 15% occupancy is allowed, up to 7,500 people, Wolf said.

For a high school football stadium with a 2,000-seat capacity, that means 500 people can attend.

Indoor events with occupancy of up to 2,000 people can have 20% occupancy. Indoor events with 2,001-10,000 capacity can have 15% occupancy and indoor events with over 10,000 capacity can have 10% occupancy, up to 3,750 people.

That means a high school gymnasium with a 1,000-seat capacity can have 200 people in the facility.

Those limits seem reasonable.

One small issue: A strict reading of limits, however, does present one small problem.

A 2,100-seat stadium would only be allowed 420 people, while a 2,000-seat stadium can allow 500. That simply doesn’t make sense. A larger facility should be permitted more fans, not less. 

That may be nitpicking, but it needs to be cleared up.

The schools, meanwhile, must do their part and demand that event attendees wear a mask and maintain social-distancing requirements. That responsibility will be on the shoulders of everyone who enters the venues.

Schools respond: Schools have already started to respond to the changes. Central York, for instance, has announced that each varsity football player and cheerleader will receive four passes for family members who wish to attend Friday’s football game.

That kind of policy should’ve been allowed for the start of the high school fall season in early September.

Wolf, however, didn’t want to allow high school sports to happen at all 2020. He made that perfectly clear, but he wasn’t willing make his “strong recommendation” into a prohibition.

Instead, he seemed to prefer fighting for his previously severe limits, both in the courts and in the legislature, resulting in a constantly shifting and confusing situation for the schools.

Finally, after enormous pressure from across the state, he relented and made some common-sense adjustments that should provide some clarity.

It’s just too bad it took so long.