HARRISBURG — The Liquor Control Board and restaurant inspectors from the state Department of Agriculture are enforcing Gov. Tom Wolf’s order that restaurant and bars eliminate eat-in service to slow the spread of coronavirus.
There are now 133 cases of coronavirus identified in Pennsylvania. The state reported its first death from the outbreak on Wednesday, identified as a patient from Northampton County.
In his Monday announcement calling on statewide mitigation efforts, Wolf had “strongly encouraged” nonessential businesses to close, but the move to bar dine-in service at bars and restaurants was a mandate and the state agencies that regulate the hospitality industry are enforcing it, said Stephanie Otterson, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement is checking bars, and the Department of Agriculture is monitoring restaurants without liquor licenses, she said.
Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said he’s heard reports that the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement is ensuring the governor’s order is being followed.
“You’re basically limited to takeout,” he said.
Any licensee that fails to comply with this mandate risks citation by the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement and suspension of operating authority by the PLCB, according to a statement provided by the Liquor Control Board on Wednesday.
Any licensee that continues to operate after its license is suspended risks further enforcement action and closure by the BLCE. Ultimately, citations may put the business’s liquor license at risk, both through the citation process and upon application for renewal to the PLCB.
“Medical experts and public health professionals from around the world agree the best step we can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to stop gathering in public spaces,” board Chairman Tim Holden said. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, and this decision is not made lightly. But saving lives and protecting the health and safety of our communities is our highest priority right now.”
The Department of Agriculture didn't immediately respond on Wednesday to clarify what actions they will take against restaurants not following the mandate.
Republican lawmakers have criticized Wolf’s plan for being vague about what changes are mandatory and what closures were recommended.
Wolf announced the plan Monday as Pennsylvania and neighboring states ramped up their efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus. The same day, federal officials called for limiting social gatherings to more than 10 people.
According to the governor’s office, nonessential businesses include public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality and recreation facilities, including but not limited to community and recreation centers; gyms, hair salons and barber shops, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; sporting event venues and golf courses; retail facilities, including shopping malls except for pharmacy or other health care facilities within retail operations.
State Rep. David Rowe, a Republican from Union County, operates a gym, which he has not closed despite Wolf’s directive. Rowe said he met with his staff to determine “common sense” means of better protecting their customers without closing the facility and forcing his employees to lose paychecks.
Gym members have been told that they should stay away if they are sick, he said.
Rowe said he’s been inundated with calls from business owners and that the state’s messages about the mitigation plan have been unclear.
“Public safety is important, but so are being able to put food on the table and paying your bills,” Rowe said.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.