(*This story was updated at 8:49 a.m. on Tuesday, 11/24/20 to correct the Wolf administration’s guidance on alcohol sales)
With Pennsylvania reaching “a precarious place” in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wolf administration announced Monday that it’s imposing a stay-at-home “advisory” for commonwealth residents, as it vowed to step up enforcement of existing public health orders with fines and regulatory action as it races to contain a fall surge.
Speaking to journalists at a virtual news conference on Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf was quick to stress that its stay-at-home advisory, which took effect Monday, was not a formal order, and nor did it anticipate returning to the color-coded opening/closing schedule that prevailed in the early days of the pandemic. It was one of several “targeted” steps it was taking this week.
“We all need to commit to wearing a mask and staying home whenever possible,” said Wolf, who was joined at the briefing by Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. “It’s the only way to relieve the strain on our healthcare workers. It’s the only way to keep people from getting sick.”
Indoor gatherings under the new guidance are limited to a maximum of 500 people, while outdoor events are capped at 2,500 people, the administration said Monday. Businesses also are being inoculated against civil immunity for mask mandates, the administration said.
The state Health Department confirmed 11,837 new cases of COVID-19 over the last two days, with 3,379 people statewide hospitalized. Of that number, 775 people are in hospital intensive care units, the agency said. The tally surpasses peak pandemic levels earlier this year, officials said.
*The Democratic administration also said it’s ordering all bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, and remain closed until Thursday at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Eve is one of the busiest nights of the year for the foodservice industry.
Wolf told journalists Monday that Thanksgiving Eve also is one of the biggest nights of the year for alcohol consumption, which increases the risk for transmission of an illness that’s sickened 314,401 people statewide since the pandemic began in March, and claimed the lives of 9,870 Pennsylvanians during that same time period.
“People get together and that leads to an increase in infection,” Wolf said, adding that the state’s decision to shutter bars and restaurants for a single night is “one of the many steps” the state has taken to contain the spread of COVID-19. He added that Pennsylvanians should focused on working “together” to fight the virus, and not focus on “if we get a transitory benefit” by gathering the night before the holiday.
The targeted steps announced Monday also include new rules for school districts; mandated telework unless it’s “impossible” otherwise, and strengthened restrictions on public gatherings.
They come on top of targeted mitigation efforts last week the state announced last week that include a stronger mask mandate, and requiring out-of-state visitors to test negative for the virus 72 hours before their arrival, or quarantine for 14 days.
The administration’s guidance requires K-12 public schools in counties that have seen substantial transmission of the virus for at least two, consecutive weeks to commit to measures, including mask mandates and social distancing, ensuring the safety and well-being of their students, or move to full, online learning without extracurricular activities.
Right now, 59 of the state’s 67 counties match that “substantial transmission” description. The state gave officials and leaders in the impacted school districts until 5 p.m. to sign “attestation letters” signaling that they’re abiding by the state’s rules or moving to full, online learning.
The state would step in if school districts fail to follow the rules, Levine said.
Wolf warned Monday that the state could run out of ICU beds by December if residents fail to work together to slow the spread of the pandemic and abide by the new mitigation measures.
“We have to do everything we can to save lives,” Wolf said.