Pa. has no plans for new statewide restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases, health secretary says

Pennsylvanians are more likely to encounter someone with coronavirus now than at any point during the pandemic, state health officials say. Hospitalizations because of COVID-19 have surged to a new high, and the state’s health care capacity is at risk of being overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.

Yet Gov. Tom Wolf has declined to place Pennsylvania under statewide lockdown status as he did in the spring, when the prevalence of coronavirus appears to have been less than it is now.

Wolf met with the governors of New York, New Jersey and other northeastern states this weekend to discuss possibly coordinating restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19,  however “nothing concrete yet” has come from those discussions, said Health Secretary Rachel Levine.

Levine said there is no plan for the commonwealth to go back to a “red, yellow, green or any type of schema” to implement additional or new restrictions.

On Monday, Pennsylvania reported an additional 4,476 confirmed cases, and another 5,199 cases were reported Sunday. Hospitalizations are continuing to rise with 2,440 people hospitalized with the coronavirus and 531 patients in intensive-care units as of Monday, Levine said. Over the weekend, 51 additional virus-related deaths were also reported.

Right now, Levine said, it’s a matter of ensuring Pennsylvanians follow the public health recommendations she’s been harping on for months and taking action on the local level.

“We need to enforce and work with limiting the number of people in a business at one time — to  limit the capacity to 50 percent. Restaurants are already at 50 percent. We want people to wear a mask, and to social distance and wash their hands,” she said. “So the best way we can prevent any type of significant mitigation impact that we had in the spring is to all of those things right now.”

However, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered restaurants to end indoor dining by 10 p.m. each night, and local governments have been given the choice to institute 8 p.m. business closings. He also implemented new restrictions Monday, prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

New York has also limited the number of people at indoor private gatherings to 10.

And although Wolf has not enforced any statewide restrictions, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Monday that the city would close indoor restaurant dining, gyms, and museums starting on Friday and lasting through Jan. 1.

The new restrictions include limits on outdoor gatherings and a ban on public and private indoor gatherings, noting that it will be a city violation for residents to hold holiday gatherings with anyone outside their own households.

Fans will no longer be permitted at sporting events and all office workers will work remotely.

Another statewide lockdown — or so-called stay-at-home order — isn’t warranted right now though, Levine said, because of the advances Pennsylvania and the world have made toward understanding and managing coronavirus.

Levine said the current surge in numbers is something health officials have been anticipating for months as the weather changes and we enter the peak season for respiratory viruses.

“We talked about for many months the anticipation of a fall resurgence and that’s what we’re seeing now,” Levine said.

With more than $1 million already being spent, you can’t escape ‘Mask Up Lebanon’ campaign

Lebanon County Commissioners still have nearly $2 million to spend to meet their obligations for a massive  “Mask Up” campaign. And they need to spend that money before the end of the year.

In September, the county spent about $14,000, and then dropped another $240,00 in October to promote masks as a means of mitigating the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign budget soared to nearly $800,000 in November.

In August, the county agreed to spend $2.8 million of the $12.8 million it received in CARES Act funding to promote the use of face masks as part of a settlement with Gov. Tom Wolf’s office. Wolf initially withheld CARES Act money because the Lebanon County commissioners voted in May to move the county into the yellow phase against state orders.

“Mask Up Lebanon” signs are now ubiquitous throughout the county; they can be found on and around businesses ranging from restaurants to libraries. Publications, including the Lebanon Daily News and the Lebanon Valley Area Merchandiser, have featured advertising from the campaign, and ads for the campaign can be found on the websites of local businesses and organizations.

The campaign has also included 55,000 fliers and masks sent to Lebanon County households and media buys in English and Spanish.

“The signs really took off,” said county Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth. “A lot of businesses were able to take advantage of that.”

Commissioner Bill Ames, who questioned the idea of the Mask Up campaign in August and refused to sign the county’s settlement, said he was not in a place to measure the campaign’s effectiveness. He noted that coronavirus numbers are still going up and as a result he wouldn’t deem it a success.

“I honestly think it’s ridiculous to spend that kind of money when there are people that are applying for grants and are not going to be getting them,” he said. He said that he was grateful that it was local businesses being sourced to provide most of the services but that he stands by his position that the state government shouldn’t have the right to tell the county how to spend money received.

Wolgemuth highlighted that almost everything has been sourced locally, including graphic design and printing. Companies sourced include Kauffman Creative Services in Palmyra, 2B Creative and Fresh Creative in Lebanon and Gretna Graphics LLC, among others.

Even the video ads have been produced by a local company, Simone Associates.

Art Clagett, owner of Simone Associates, said that the actors in the ads were all Lebanon County residents playing the roles they do in their everyday lives. “You want to pick real people,” he said.

Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, who did sign the settlement, said that everyone involved with the Mask Up campaign had done “a stellar job.”

“We must show leadership and cooperate with those who are providing the funds,” she said, describing the CARES money as “a hand-up, not a hand-out.” “This is a win-win and I think we should be grateful.”

Businesses that have signs are expected to keep them up through the end of the year.

Restaurant industry says liquor license fee waiver not enough

Governor Tom Wolf Thursday announced a plan to waive liquor license fees to provide financial relief to restaurants and bars, which have faced significant financial impacts during the COVID-19 public health crisis. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –


Restaurant industry advocates are calling Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s waiver of liquor license fees to help offset COVID-19 losses too little and too late

“PRLA has been advocating for a number of industry ‘lifelines’ since March 19. It’s unfortunate that the administration is only now, nearly eight months later, taking our requests seriously,” said John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. “While our industry desperately needs support, these olive branches will not sustain businesses that are still reeling from closures, shrinking revenue and well-intended but ineffective mitigation efforts unnecessarily targeting restaurant operators.”

Wolf on Thursday said the state would waive all liquor license fees for 2021. The move came nearly a week after he vetoed House Bill 2513, which restaurant owners had been calling for. The bill would have stripped many of the COVID-19 mitigation regulations he added since July 15, leaving mask wearing and 50% capacity in place.

Longstreet said supporting loosened restrictions would have been more helpful.

“The $20 million in licensee fee waivers only accounts for 2021 fees, does not provide relief for 2020 fees and only amounts to about $1,500 per licensee, which doesn’t compensate for the daily losses in revenue licensees are facing under the current orders,” he said.

Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said more is needed.

“While licensing fee help is part of the solution, much more needs to be done, particularly considering the size of the industry and its role in the Pennsylvania economy,” he said in a release.

He said his organization would like to see liquor license fees waived for both 2020 and 2021. It’s also calling for industry specific grants – not loans.

He said the association would also like to see the governor meet many of the demands that were in the bill that he vetoed including allowing bar seating and eliminating the need to buy food to purchase liquor.

It would also like to see the curfew to sell alcohol moved from 11 p.m. until midnight to help accommodate shift workers.

Governor Tom Wolf to waive liquor license fees to offer restaurants COVID-19 relief

Less than a week after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have eased COVID-19 mitigation restrictions at the state’s restaurants, he is offering a financial olive branch to the hard-hit industry.

Today he announced a plan to waive liquor license fees to provide some financial relief to bars and restaurants.

Wolf said as the state enters the anticipated fall resurgence of COVID-19 cases – the state health department reported 2,063 additional positive cases on Thursday — the very contagious nature of this virus makes gathering indoors publicly at full capacity dangerous, making easing restrictions dangerous.

“Still, we know that restaurant and bar owners in Pennsylvania are committed to keeping their employees and customers safe and the vast majority of these businesses have followed safety precautions and invested in new procedures and supplies, but COVID continues to hurt this industry,” Gov. Wolf said. “Eliminating liquor license fees is an important step toward helping bars and restaurants retain the capital they need to weather the storm of COVID-19.”

Wolf said the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will waive standard licensing fees through 2021 starting Jan. 1.

With the waiver, more than 16,000 Pennsylvania restaurants and bars, clubs, catering clubs and hotels would see $20 million in relief, according to Wolf.

Pa. House fails to override governor’s veto of restaurant bill

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives failed to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 2513, which would have reversed many of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants.

The house voted 133 to 69 in favor of the veto, falling short of the two-thirds majority it needed for a successful override. The original vote on the bill was 145 to 56, which would have been enough votes for an override, but 12 democratic reps changed their position when it came to an override.

Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Allentown, was one of the original “no” votes on the bill. He did not support the override vote.

“It was a painful vote, but a necessary one. Unfortunately, the data is clear, overcrowded restaurants and bars – which this legislation would have led to – is a huge nexus for COVID spread,” he said.

Schlossberg said one his big concerns was about future restrictions.

“This would have removed the ability of the governor to enact further restrictions if things get bad again,” he noted.

The bill aimed to reverse many of the restrictions Wolf added to bars and restaurants on July 15 that eliminated seating at the bar, self-certification of compliance and tied alcohol sales to meals.

It would have maintained 50% occupancy, mask wearing and social distancing procedures and did include the 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales the governor added recently.

When vetoing the bill last Friday, Wolf said rolling back the safety measures would lead to a spike in COVID-19 transmission and undo much of the progress the state had made in fighting the spread of the disease.

Still, restaurants are disappointed, saying there are other ways they can ensure the safety of their staff and customers and that the governor’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts hurt the industry.

“We only asked that we be allowed to open to 50% capacity with COVID safety measures in place, while removing some of the onerous guidelines impacting our businesses and restricting customers’ choices,” said Matt Flinchbaugh, a Pennsylvania restaurant owner who has led a coalition of Central Pennsylvania restaurant owners opposed to the restrictions.

He said as colder weather arrives taking away restaurant’s outdoor seating capacity, the restrictions are becoming increasingly burdensome.

John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association said his organization is disappointed in the outcome of the override attempt and will continue to fight for changes.

“The failure to pass HB 2513 is devastating to the long-term survival of the restaurant, private event, and lodging industries. On behalf of 30,000 businesses and 700,000 hospitality employees across the Commonwealth, the PRLA will not relent in speaking up for the struggling restaurant, private event and lodging industries,” Longstreet said.

He said his organization’s top priorities are to eliminate self-certification, allow bar seating and remove the required meal with the purchase of alcohol.

Legislature may look to override governor’s veto of restaurant regulation overhaul

On Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed House Bill 2513, which would have mostly returned the restaurant industry to pre-July 15 guidelines.  But, it’s unlikely that the veto is the last we’ll hear about the bill.

Under the bill, establishments would limited to 50% capacity, with social distancing, mask wearing and sanitation requirements, but meal requirements and the ban on bar seating would be dropped. The bill, did keep an 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales that the governor recently added.

Restaurants and industry advocates have been calling on the legislature to override the governor’s veto.

In theory, they have the votes to do it.

The bill was passed by a veto-proof majority.

The house voted 145-56 and the senate voting 43-6 in favor of the bill.

However, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Allentown, who was one of the minority “no” votes on the bill, said things have changed since the vote.

“Cases are getting worse and relatively speaking, Pennsylvania has a lower case load than other states in the nation. This is largely due to the efforts of the governor, Schlossberg said. Still, he said, he has “zero doubt” the bill will come up during today’s session.

“I am sure there will be an effort to override it, “he said.

Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association President and CEO John Longstreet is among those calling on the legislature to override the veto, saying HB 2513 would have offered safe and reasonable guidelines for restaurants to follow.

“HB 2513 was passed with broad bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature and is vitally important to the restaurant, lodging, and event industries’ long-term survival,” he said in statement.

Longstreet acknowledged the rise in cases since the legislature voted on the bill last month, but said he doesn’t see restrictions that tie meals to alcohol sales and ban bar seating as the answer.

“As we start to see COVID-19 cases rise across the state, we implore Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine to educate residents on the greater dangers of hosting small gatherings in their homes, which ignore mask wearing and social distancing protocols, instead of placing further restrictions and undue burdens on the struggling restaurant industry.”

A coalition of Central Pennsylvania restaurant owners have also joined the call to override the governor’s veto.

“The Governor has once again continued to starve our industry and won’t allow valuable areas of our operations to open, even though we have complied with every regulation imposed on us during the pandemic by multiple state and federal agencies,” said Matt Flinchbaugh, leader of the coalition and owner of Home Slice at Walden in Mechanicsburg and Flinchy’s in Camp Hill. “We urge the Pa. Senate and House of Representatives, especially the Democrats who voted for the bill, to stand up for their businesses, workers, jobs and constituents and vote for an override of this devastating veto.”

Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, also called for a veto override. He said restricting restaurants in such a way is not the answer.

“With COVID-19 fatigue increasing, we worry that Governor Wolf’s veto of HB 2513 last Friday promotes underground gatherings and house parties, which will feed the current spike of COVID-19 cases our commonwealth is facing. Pennsylvanians are already flocking to parties with a false sense of safety because they are amongst people they know. But no CDC guidelines are followed at those locations and those attending face increased risk,” he said.

Moran said with HB 2513 those Pennsylvanians would have had safer options to enjoy a night out.

COVID-19 travel advisories updated for Pennsylvania, as cases surge

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 quarantine list for out-of-state travelers has grown a bit larger over the past few weeks.

Two states — Georgia and Louisiana — were removed from the travel advisory, meaning travelers coming from there will no longer be subject to a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival in Pennsylvania.

Ten states — Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — have been added to the quarantine list, pushing the total to 25 states.

The recommendation for travelers coming into Pennsylvania marks a notable shift in which states are being flagged nationwide for the most alarming increases of coronavirus cases.

Earlier in the pandemic, Pennsylvania touted comparatively low hospitalization rates and was pointing the finger at other states where the virus was raging.

What states are on the travel advisory?

The states that have been placed in this category are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

The list of states is fluid though and will be updated regularly, according to the governor’s office.

Essential workers — including truckers and others in transportation — are exempt.

How are the travel restrictions in Pennsylvania being enforced?

Travelers are advised to voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state. If they get tested while in Pennsylvania, they should self-quarantine until the results come in. If positive, they should self-isolate for 10 days.

In Pennsylvania, Wolf said travelers will be expected to voluntarily self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state.

If they are caught violating that quarantine — say a police officer pulls them over for an infraction and sees they have an out-of-state license — then a judge could issue a mandatory quarantine order under certain circumstances, Wolf said during a press briefing

What determines which states are on the list of travel restrictions?

The quarantine recommendation applies to travelers from any state with a high rate of COVID-19.

There are two ways a state can make the list, both of which are measured on a rolling seven-day average:

  • Having 10% of COVID-19 diagnostic tests come back positive
  • Having at least 10 daily positive tests for every 100,000 residents

Wolf said states could be added and removed from the order as their COVID-19 rates rise or fall.

Gov. Wolf vetoes bill that would have eased COVID-19 restaurant restrictions

As he said he would, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf today vetoed a bill that would have rolled back many of the COVID-19 safety restrictions at bars and restaurants that his administration has put into place.

House Bill 2513 would have mostly reverted to the regulations back to those that were originally introduced back in June, when the state entered the green phase of its reopening plan and establishments with liquor licenses were allowed to again have indoor seating.

At that time such establishments were limited to 50% capacity, with social distancing, mask wearing and sanitation requirements.

On July 15, the governor issued new orders after a spike in COVID-19 cases. Those orders tied alcohol sales to food purchases, eliminated bar seating and reduced capacity to 25%. In September he allowed for establishments to return to 50% capacity if they self-certify that they’re in compliance with all regulations.

At that time he also set an 11 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

The bill would reverted to June regulations, but included the 11 p.m. curfew.

Wolf said the bill jeopardizes the public health and safety.

“These federal and state mitigation guidelines were established to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 because of the severity of this pandemic,” Wolf said in a statement. “We have been able to re-open businesses and schools because of the success of our mitigation efforts. If we do not promote health and safety measures that reduce the spread of COVID-19 there will be a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, ending our success and risking our health and our lives.”

He said the risk of spreading the virus in restaurant settings is more significant because of the length of interactions with others, proximity and the inability to utilize prevention tools, like masks, while eating.

The veto may not be the last say, however.

The house voted 145-56 and the senate voting 43-6 in favor of the bill, both of which were veto-proof majorities, should they decide to go that way.

Hospitality industry advocates had previously urged the legislature to vote to override any veto.

Pennsylvania joins multi-state group developing network storing CO2

Pennsylvania joins six other states developing a plan to create a widescale system to capture and store carbon dioxide.

The long-term goal described in a news release from Gov. Tom Wolf’s offices would create the infrastructure needed to transport the greenhouse gas emissions created by energy production, manufacturing and other industries.

Wolf said the plan to pursue a carbon capture and storage system is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to combat the effects of global warming, adding the infrastructure project would also bring jobs to the commonwealth.

“This infrastructure plan will continue to invest in those jobs and even create new jobs in emerging energy industries while reducing harmful CO2 emissions,” he said.

Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oklahoma and Wyoming have already joined a memorandum of understanding intended to create a regional and national carbon storage network.

The intent is for states to work together proposing tax credits and other financial incentives to connect the network to sites that typically create large amounts of carbon dioxide, like power plans.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory’s website describes carbon capture systems as an underground storage for the gas that would otherwise be put out in the air.

The process essentially stores carbon gases inside of various rock formations, including underground saline water formations, oil and natural gas reservoirs or coal seams that can’t be mined.

The collective group of states would first form a “coordination group” to develop a plan over the next year, using findings from a recently released study by the Great Plains Institute, the release adds.

The study by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit research group identified most of western Pennsylvania as areas where carbon storage could be provided at a “very low cost.”

More information about the multi-state carbon storage plan can be found at carboncaptureready.betterenergy.org.

Limits on number of people that can congregate in-person not enforceable — for now

A federal judge this week denied Gov. Tom Wolf’s motion to uphold limitations on in-person gatherings while administration officials work to appeal a Sept. 14 ruling that said some of the governor’s COVID-19 mitigation orders were unconstitutional.

Judge William S. Stickman, district court judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania, rejected Wolf’s request to stay the court’s ruling that business closure mandates, stay-at-home requirements and limitations on in-person gatherings violated the constitutional rights on citizens.

In his memorandum filed on Tuesday, Stickman reaffirmed his contention that Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine violated citizens’ First Amendment’s right of assembly and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment with statewide orders intended to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Tuesday’s ruling means 25-person caps on indoor gatherings and 250-person caps on outdoor gatherings are not enforceable while Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine appeal the court’s decision. It was the latest development in the ongoing court battle between four western counties and businesses who sued Wolf and Levine in May over their alleged violations of civil liberties with COVID-19 containment orders.

“The administration is disappointed with the decision and has filed an appeal,” said Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger in an emailed statement. Kensinger said the Court’s decision is “especially worrying” as Pennsylvania could face a challenging resurgence of COVID-19 and the flu in the fall and winter.

Since the commonwealth transitioned out of March’s business closure and stay-at-home orders, the only remaining restrictions impacted by last week’s ruling were on indoor and outdoor gatherings, which have been limited to 25 and 250, respectively.

“This court ruling is limited to the business closure order and the stay at home orders issued in March, which were later suspended, as well as the 25-person indoor and 250-person outdoor gathering limitations,” Kensinger said, adding that current restrictions on business occupancy requirements remain in place.

In Wolf’s motion to stay the order, he argued the ruling makes it difficult for state officials to manage the pandemic effectively and could result in the deaths of Pennsylvanians.

Stickman, appointed by President Donald Trump in May of 2019, remained unconvinced. Why should hundreds of people be allowed to gather indoors to shop, as permitted by percentage-based occupancy requirements, Stickman queried, but no more than 25 be allowed to attend an indoor lecture?

Stickman argued that the administration’s actions demonstrate that “they do not believe gatherings exceeding their numeric caps will necessarily cause such harm.” Stickman cited Wolf’s decision to appear at a protest in June in apparent violation of his own limit on outdoor events.

Stickman also pointed to a confidentiality agreement between the state Department of Health and the organizers of a large auto flea market in Carlisle that allowed the event to take place in April.

The confidentiality agreement, which was made part of the case record following FOIA requests that disclosed it to the public, revealed the Health Department agreed to allow the event to proceed with an indoor capacity of “the lesser of 250 individuals or 50% of the maximum building capacity,” and an outdoor capacity limit of no more than 20,000 — well above the 25 and 250 caps.

The administration’s treatment of the car show and large public protests across the commonwealth, Stickman said, undermine its argument that “imminent and irreparable harm” will occur absent their ability to impose numeric occupancy caps.

Wolf said he’s confident the Sept. 14 ruling will be successfully appealed since two other federal judges upheld the legality of the administration’s actions in cases earlier this year.

“While the federal government dithered, Pennsylvania took action,” Wolf said in response to the Court’s Sept. 14 decision. “Our hospitals were never overwhelmed and research tells us thousands of lives were saved.”

Businesses, volunteers keep food bank shelves stocked

This has been a challenging year for everyone, but food banks around the country have been especially hard hit, from supply chain disruptions to distribution logistics. 

“The virus really changed our mission dramatically,” said Joe Arthur, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. 

The organization, which typically serves 135,000 people a month, saw the number jump to 200,000 when COVID hit. The good news, according to Arthur, is that the distribution places, which number about 1,000, stayed active and businesses and foundations stepped up to the plate with generous monetary gifts in lieu of food donations, which have been suspended. Monetary donations help pay for the food boxes the nonprofit assembles. Boxes include items such peanut butter, canned vegetables, canned meat, cereal, pasta products and pasta sauces, to name just a few.

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank saw demand rise from 135,000 to nearly 200,000, during the pandemic. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

It hasn’t always been easy sourcing the food for the boxes, however. “When we buy food, we buy it by the truckload and we had to work really hard with our grocery store friends and the USDA to acquire the items we needed, but by June we had that stabilized,” Arthur said.

People have also been generous with their time, he said, volunteering to pack the boxes. “We’ve been able to attract the level of volunteers that we need,” he said, adding that the state has also been a huge help in providing space. “We have a great relationship with the state, so we have been able to use the Farm Show Expo Center for six months,” he said.

Jane Clements-Smith, director of Harrisburg-based Feeding Pennsylvania, said the need has expanded exponentially due to COVID. She attended one of the drive throughs in Westmoreland County and witnessed it firsthand. “There were about 1,000 cars in line and it was very emotional,” she said, adding that COVID created a whole new clientele: those who found themselves unemployed overnight and needing food assistance to make ends meet. 

Clements-Smith said her non-profit organization tries to send the message that it’s okay to need assistance. “A lot of people said that they weren’t receiving unemployment money yet. Some had kids, others were taking care of elderly parents. Anyone can be just one emergency away from needing help,” she said. 

Hunger Action Month

Gov. Tom Wolf created a food security partnership in 2015 to address issues of hunger and Feeding Pennsylvania subsequently asked him to issue a proclamation declaring September “Hunger Action Month.”

Politicians and members of her organization met at Soldier’s Grove behind the Capitol during this year’s press conference. “We started the morning out volunteering to pack food boxes with the First Lady, Frances Wolf,” Clements-Smith said, adding that Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, and Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Cheryl Cook also helped fill the boxes. 

“This year, the press conference really focused on the increase in hunger due to COVID-19,” said Clements-Smith. She noted a map released by Feeding America showed that in 2019 hunger affected about 1.5 million individuals. The organization projects that by the end of 2020, those numbers will approach 2 million.

Both Clements-Smith and Arthur say the numbers are daunting, but their organizations, with the help of volunteers and donors, have been resilient by rising to the challenges caused by COVID. If there’s any silver lining in the COVID cloud, it’s that the Central Pennsylvania Food has learned how to face various challenges during an epidemic, from a dramatic increase in the numbers of people they serve, to supply disruptions. 

“We know that with some of the new food sourcing innovations that we put in place that we can move fresh and frozen products better. More importantly, however, the crisis has helped us understand that even working folks can be impacted,” he said. Arthur goes on to say that his organization is trying to help remove some of the stigma attached to getting help. “We have hundreds of new donors who see that people from all walks of life can be affected and we think they are now understanding that issue better as well,” he added.

Restaurant self-certification program begins in Pa. today, making way for 50% capacity

Pennsylvania’s self-certification plan for restaurants begins today. Restaurants may increase their dining capacity from the current 25% restriction to 50% if they certify online that they are adhering to all COVID-19 preventative measures.

The self-certification process is open to all restaurants, private social clubs and ​food service businesses that serve dine-in, sit down food in a regular, non-event capacity.

Self-certification forms are now available for restaurant management to fill out at PA.com/COVID. Forms are available in English and Spanish, and state officials said more languages will be added soon.

While restaurants can choose to not self-certify, self-certification is required for restaurants to increase their indoor capacity to 50 percent. Social distancing, masking, and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons.

Today also marks the day that a curfew is set on alcohol sales. Establishments with liquor licenses must stop selling alcohol at 11 p.m. and all alcoholic beverage need to be taken from customers by midnight.

The original proposal was to end alcohol sales at 10 p.m., but it was amended after outcry from the restaurant industry that a 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales would be too damaging to business.

The 11 p.m. limit applies to both restaurants that do not self-certify to increase to 50 percent and those that choose to stay at 25 percent.

Enforcement of the 50 percent indoor capacity will begin on Oct. 5, so restaurants that choose to increase indoor capacity to 50 percent before Oct. 5 must complete the online self-certification process by that date.

However, the self-certification process will remain available after Oct. 5 for restaurants that choose to self-certify in the future.

Self-certifying will not lead to additional inspections, state officials said.

There is no change to the requirements for the temporary sale of cocktails-to-go and take out alcohol sales from bars, restaurants or hotels with a liquor license.