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Indoor Dining Postponed as Coronavirus Case Counts Rise in Philadelphia

The city is pushing pause on reopening plans

empty restaurant with chairs stacked on tables Shutterstock

Philadelphia was expected to move into the next phase of reopening on Friday, a move that would allow indoor dining at restaurants. But with the daily COVID-19 case count no longer falling, city officials are pushing pause. Restaurant delivery, takeout, and outdoor dining will continue to be permitted, but indoor dining is not happening this week.

“We will not be allowing restaurants to permit indoor dining as we had tentatively scheduled,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a press conference Tuesday. The concern, he explained, is if Philly restaurants open for indoor dining, which means people gathered indoors without masks, it could “catalyze another surge in cases that could be as bad as we saw here in April, or worse.”

The target for resuming indoor dining and other social activities was a daily case count below 80. Cases are now hovering around 140, with a small increase in cases over the past two weeks. The theory is that recently expanded social activities, including trips to the Jersey Shore, is leading to the rise in cases, especially among younger people. Thirty-four percent of local cases in the last two weeks were in people under 30, compared to 20 percent throughout the pandemic.

On June 18, the city announced it planned to move into a version of the yellow, or middle, phase of Pennsylvania’s three-phase reopening plan on July 26, with indoor gatherings up to 25 people permitted and personal services like salons allowed to open, but no immediate changes to dining. (The city called it a version of the yellow phase with more allowances, while some people were describing it as a version of the green phase with more restrictions. The latter fit in more seamlessly with Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement that Philadelphia County would be green on July 26, but both amount to the same thing.)

Also on June 18, the city said it was considering moving into a fuller version of the green phase on or around July 3, with indoor dining allowed at that point.

Philly is now looking at August 1 as a goal for indoor dining to resume. “Nothing has changed about the virus, nothing has changed about human biology, since March,” Farley said.

In New Jersey, indoor dining at 25-percent capacity was set to begin Thursday. But yesterday New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy postponed it indefinitely. Casinos are still allowed to reopen Thursday, also at 25 percent capacity, but now they can’t serve food or drink or permit smoking (the idea there is that customers must keep masks on). With that in mind, some Atlantic City casinos that planned to open changed their minds.

In Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, officials banned on-premises alcohol consumption in bars and restaurants, starting today.

Coronavirus cases are continuing to rise across the country, with some states seeing big spikes. “We will pause some of our reopening plans until it is clear how much this is going to affect us in Philadelphia,” Farley said.

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