The Lead

Levine: Rebel restaurant owners are ‘putting themselves’ at risk

By: - December 17, 2020 2:46 pm

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Pennsylvania’s top public health official had a stern warning Thursday for Pennsylvania restaurateurs defying the state’s indoor dining ban, saying they’re “only putting themselves,” and their staffs at risk, and are contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

“There is robust evidence about the spread of this virus,” from dining indoors, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during an online briefing on Thursday. “It’s counterproductive to the public health of their community and their state to do that.”

At least 150 establishments have defied the indoor dining ban that Gov. Tom Wolf imposed earlier this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Thursday. Restaurant owners could face fines or shut down if they don’t abide by the rules, the newspaper reported.

Restaurant owners have countered that they face financial ruin if they’re forced to stop offering indoor dining. They’ve also questioned the data underlying the administration’s mandates. A study by and Stanford University concluded that indoor businesses, particularly restaurants, where people spend a long period of time together, could be the cause of most COVID-19 super-spreader events in major cities.

“On average across metro areas, full-service restaurants, gyms, hotels, cafes, religious organizations, and limited-service restaurants produced the largest predicted increases in infections when reopened,” the study — in collaboration said, adding that 10 percent of the “point-of-interest” businesses studied accounted for 80% of all infections, Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade journal, reported.

The Health Department reported 9,966 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, for a total of 529,335 cases since the start of the pandemic. The agency also confirmed 224 new deaths, for a total of 13,392 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Statewide, 6,346 people were hospitalized, which is double the peak in the spring. Of that tally, 1,238 patients were in hospital intensive care units, the agency said in a statement.

“We continue to hear of hospitals with few ICU, or in some cases, no ICU beds,” Levine said Thursday. “Hospitals and health systems are significantly challenged because of COVID-19.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.