Three-Week Shut-Down for Indoor Dining, Gyms, Indoor Recreation, Casinos, School Sports, & More
HARRISBURG (DEC 10 2020) - Sounding at times like a patient, if a slightly exasperated parent, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf today recounted several weeks of pleads, warns, and threats designed to encourage Pennsylvanians to adhere to the existing and seemly simple measures of mask-wearing, social distancing, and staying home to avoid overtaxing health services and workers amid the "exponential" growth of COVID cases in Pennsylvania.
Saying the situation in Pennsylvania has grown dire -- nearly half of all COVID cases in the state have come within the last thirty days -- Wolf announced what he called "targeted, measured, and restricted" temporary measures to take effect at 12:01 am Saturday morning, December 12, and to remain until at least 8 am Monday, January 4, 2021. “We all hoped it would not come to this,” Wolf said, “but the current surge in Pennsylvania will not allow us to wait.”
"I am taking these measures," said the governor, addressing the press from his home where he is quarantining after testing positive for COVID himself, "for three reasons." Wolf identified those goals as stopping the spread of the virus, preventing hospitals and health care workers from excess demand, and to help Pennsylvanians get through the holidays safely. Wolf noted that no one anticipated that so many nationally and in the commonwealth would ignore public health officials warnings to stay within household groups and not to travel over Thanksgiving. The numbers the state is seeing now is a result of the failure to heed the warnings.
So this afternoon, the governor and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, imposed the following measures: 1. All extracurricular scholastic activities are suspended.
2. All indoor gatherings are limited to ten people; outdoor gatherings are limited to 50.
3. Indoor dining and in-person alcohol sales are suspended.
4. Indoor gym, entertainment, casino, and recreation facilities must close.
5. In-person businesses are limited to 50% of capacity.
"It's not the government putting businesses at risk," Wolf said, "it's the virus. We are concerned if we do not address this directly, right now, we are going to be faced with a much bigger problem." Levine pointed to the projections by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), of the University of Washington. The IHME, know for conservation projections, estimated that, if no action were taken, total COVID deaths in Pennsylvania would more than double between today and the end of March. Pennsylvania just passed the 12,000 mark for deaths; IMHE projects that with no further mitigation actions, the total deaths could exceed 28,000 by April.
According to public health experts, and the IMHE projections, the reduction in deaths is dependent, more than any other factor, including the vaccine rollout, on adherence to the universal masking rules. Levine noted that the vaccines, which are expected to begin to roll out in Pennsylvania next week, would be targeted to health care, front line, and at-risk Pennsylvanians, with general availability not even projected to begin until after April. IMHE projects that the case and eath rates could be reduced by over 20% by universal adherence to masking -- even with no vaccine. Wolf noted that the measures he is taking now would not be effective if Pennsylvanians failed to follow universal masking, social distancing, personal hygiene, and avoidance of non-essential travel. But, "if we do this and people wear masks everything will be much better," he said at the briefing.
Wolf again urged Congress to pass the "Restaurant Act", which would provide financial relief to the restaurant industry, which is one of the hardest hit by the virus. Wolf was joined at the briefing by Levine, and Dr. Meda Higa, an immunologist with York College, Dr. Jaewon Ryu, CEO of Geisinger Health System, and Dr. Chris DeFlitch, Vice President and Chief Medical Information Officer for Penn State Health, who had just completed a 12-hr shift in the Emergency Room before signing on to the Zoom briefing.
Higa said that the characteristics of the virus made it especially able to take advantage of indoor dining settings to spread. She referred to recent studies showing that 50% of people at the same table as an infected person subsequently tested positive for COVID, while 75% of those at an adjacent table also were infected. Higa said there wasn't any question that restaurants and bars spread the disease very efficiently, telling Levine and the Governor, "the evidence is clear." Levine noted that the evidence wasn't new, "this evidence goes back several months." "Believe in the science," Higa implored.
Ryu, of Geisinger Health, said that front-line health workers "are feeling like they are just bailing water with a big hole in the bottom of the boat." Public cooperation with mitigation efforts is the only way to prevent the disastrous outcomes universally projected if there is no change now. Following the late afternoon presser, the Wolf administration issued the formal order with greater detail on the nature of the restrictions and types of businesses covered. Among other things, the order shutters all indoor entertainment, including "theaters, concert venues, museums, movie theaters, arcades, casinos, bowling alleys, private clubs, and all other similar entertainment, recreational or social facilities." While the order does not ban collegiate or professional sporting events, it does prohibit spectators. Wolf revealed that he first tested positive on Tuesday, has had no symptoms, and his last test was negative. The first lady has tested negative for the disease.