Pa. brought down enforcement hammer on restaurants that defied indoor dining ban | Wednesday Morning Coffee

January 6, 2021 7:09 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Pennsylvania’s ban on indoor dining expired Monday. But in the days leading up to it, dozens of businesses statewide defied those orders, opening for indoor dining. And according to newly released state data, state officials weren’t shy about taking enforcement action.

Between Dec. 28 and Sunday, officials closed 36 restaurants statewide that refused to comply with the indoor dining ban while an inspector was present, the state Department of Agriculture said in a statement. That was down from the prior, two-week period that ended Dec. 27, where officials shuttered 73 establishments, the Morning Call of Allentown reported.

All told, the agency’s Bureau of Food Safety performed 373 inspections between Dec. 28 and Sunday, 99 of which were complaint driven. Ninety-six of the 99 complaints were COVID-19 specific complaints, officials said. The department received 244 “food facility” COVID-19 related complaints, and 101 of them were referred to local and county health departments for further action.

The Wolf administration’s indoor dining ban, announced late last year, prompted widespread resistance among restaurant-owners, who organized on Facebook and elsewhere on social media. Now, with 2020 in the rearview mirror, business owners are looking ahead to what they hope will be a better new year.

“For the new year, I hope it’s going to be a little bit better than 2020, because 2020 was a disaster,” Dino Vitoroulis, who’s owned The Bethlehem Diner for 32 years, told the Morning Call.

(Pennsylvania State Police graphic)

The Pennsylvania State Police were kept equally busy, as the agency’s Liquor Control Enforcement agents conducted 1,091 compliance checks for the four days between New Year’s Eve and Sunday, issuing 46 notices of violation, the agency said in a statement.

Agents were kept particularly busy in northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, data showed, where officers conducted 262 license checks in the Wilkes-Barre area, resulting in seven pandemic-related violations.

In the Lehigh Valley, agents conducted 201 compliance checks, netting 14 pandemic-related warnings and nine pandemic-related violation notices.

Meanwhile, the state Health Department announced 8,818 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 673,915 since the start of the pandemic last March. The agency confirmed 185 new deaths, for a total of 16,546 confirmed fatalities.

Statewide, 5,630 people were hospitalized as of midday on Tuesday, a total that remains near double the state’s peak last spring, the Health Department said in a statement. Of that tally, 1,182 people were in hospital intensive care units. The statewide positivity rate for the week of Dec. 25 through Dec 31 was 15 percent, the Health Department said.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
A normally sedate swearing-in day descended into chaos in the state Senate on Tuesday when Republicans refused to seat a Democratic lawmaker who narrowly won re-election and relieved Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of his duty as the chamber’s presiding officer. The fractious proceedings provoked a strong rebuke from Gov. Tom WolfElizabeth Hardison has the details.

In the state House, meanwhile, members calmly took the oath of office, and agreed to a series of bipartisan tweaks to the chamber’s rulesStephen Caruso reports. State Rep. Summer Lee, D-Alleghenywho is recovering from coronavirus, skipped the ceremonies, Caruso also reports.

As they look to boost the state’s $7.25 an hour, minimum wage, legislative Democrats also want to end local preemption. Stephen Caruso explains why that’s a heavy lift.

Dozens of Congressional Republicans, including many from Pennsylvania, will object to certifying election results giving Democrat Joe Biden the White House, Capital-Star Washington Reporters Ariana Figueroa and Laura Olson report.

With the fate of the Chesapeake Bay on the line, Pennsylvania needs to up its pollution mitigation game, advocates said Tuesday, as they unveiled a new report detailing the historic estuary’s fragile health.

Cassie Miller has what you need to know about the latest on the 2020 Census.

Pennsylvania still doesn’t have a statewide ban on LGBTQ employment and public accommodation discrimination. But three communities in suburban Philadelphia have just moved to ban it on their own, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Anwar Curtis returns after a long hiatus, noting that, despite the tremendous progress Black Americans made in 2020, they too often remain their own Achilles heel. And in a gesture of bipartisanship, opinion regular Sean Quinlan takes a moment to congratulate former U.S. Attorney David Freed, a Republican who was appointed by President Donald Trump.

(Getty Images/Maine Beacon)

Philadelphia could expand its vaccination program as soon as February, the Inquirer reports. But one official says that the number of doses is not enough.
A western Pennsylvania school official is facing calls for his resignation over a racially charged text message, the Tribune-Review reports.
PennLive introduces you to the new members of the 2021 General Assembly, whose ranks include a mother-son and father-daughter combo, as well as two women floor leaders.
Allentown is taking advantage of evolving federal law to tax online retailers who do business in the city, the Morning Call reports.
Marking the end of an era, the restaurant in the Boscov’s department store in downtown Wilkes-Barre will permanently close, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by D. R. (@illadelphia)

Black and Hispanic workers are bearing the economic brunt of the pandemicWHYY-FM reports.
Pennsylvania is lagging the nation in the number of people being tested daily for COVID-19, which is essential for suppressing the virus, Spotlight PA reports (via WITF-FM).
Schools in Erie County will remain all-virtual until Jan. 29, GoErie reports.
Republican Jim Bognet, who lost in November, is mulling a 2022 rematch against U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-8th District, PoliticsPA reports. delves into the controversy over prioritizing inmates for COVID-19 vaccinations.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock beat Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler in one of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate run-offs. The race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and GOP U.S. Sen. David Perdue remains too close to call this morning. Our sibling site, the Georgia Recorder, has the details.

What Goes On.
The desk is clear in Harrisburg, leaving Congress to pick up the slack for acts of legislative insanity today. Hold on tight, folks. It’s going to be quite a day.

Heavy Rotation.
A week as rife with political craziness as this one deserves only one soundtrack: The Clash. So here’s the Only Band That Matterscaught live at Shea Stadium, with their indelible version of ‘Armagideon Time.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Tottenham got past Brentford 2-0 in Carabao Cup play on Tuesdayprompting Spurs boss Jose Mourinho to proclaim that the club are within range of ending a trophy drought, the Guardian reports.

And now you’re up to date.

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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.