HARRISBURG (AP) — Pennsylvania is imposing broad new statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants and larger indoor gatherings, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday, citing an "alarming escalation" in new coronavirus infections and heavily criticizing people who he said had disregarded public health orders.
Nightclubs will be shut down, bars will also be closed unless they also offer dine-in meals, and bars and restaurants will be limited to 25% capacity under Wolf's order, which takes effect Thursday and also requires companies statewide to have their employees telework to the extent possible.
The new restrictions, coming months after Pennsylvania began reopening its virus-battered economy, risked major backlash in large swaths of the state where the virus has largely been kept at bay.
But Wolf warned that a "new surge is in the offing" that could eclipse what happened in the spring, when the virus killed thousands and sickened tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians.
The Democratic governor said people who refused to wear a mask or abide by social distancing requirements while patronizing bars and restaurants are responsible in part for the virus's resurgence.
"They are annoyingly spreading, or annoyingly picking up, the virus. This carelessness has resulted in pockets of super-spreading," Wolf said.
He also cited out-of-state travel to virus hotspots, and blamed states in the South and West for "not committing to the things they should've done to keep this virus from spreading."
"We did everything we should've done, we were responsible, and yet we're paying the price right now," he said.
"We're already at a tipping point where we really have to act. We don't want to become Florida. We don't want to become Texas. We don't want to become Arizona. We have got to act now," said Wolf, naming three states where the virus has been surging.
Under Wolf's order, Indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited. And businesses will be required to have their employees work remotely to the extent possible.
A group representing tavern owners said it's "not a good situation" and asked for financial relief.
"It's not going to help the struggling industry and we hope that the Legislature can come together to piece together a relief package," said Chuck Moran of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. "People have paid their license fees and are unable to use them. People have brought staff back and will probably have to lay them off again. It's not a good situation if you're a licensed tavern or restaurant."
The state Health Department reported 994 new positive virus cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to more than 97,000. The health department reported the results of nearly 29,000 virus tests, the highest one-day total since the beginning of the pandemic.
Health officials also reported 26 new deaths.
Pennsylvania's recently elevated statewide virus numbers have been driven in large part by increased spread in the Pittsburgh area, where officials attribute the spike to younger people and others congregating in bars and restaurants.
Allegheny County, which had already imposed temporary restrictions on restaurants and bars, reported 246 additional infections on Wednesday from tests performed between June 30 and July 14. Infections numbers have also been up in counties ringing Allegheny.
The Philadelphia school district, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it plans to resume limited in-person instruction in the fall, with most students in class just two days per week and learning remotely the other three.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Wednesday:
East Stroudsburg University has become the second school in Pennsylvania's 14-school, state-owned university system to announce that it will conduct the fall semester almost entirely through remote instruction because of the danger of the coronavirus.
"While we were certain we could all return to campus with a 'new normal' this fall, we know now that this is not the safest, most realistic, option for our greater ESU community," the school's president, Marcia Welsh, said in a statement.
A "very limited" number of classes will be offered for both remote and in-person formats for student teaching, clinical placements, internships and other situations, Welsh said.
West Chester University also said it will continue remote instruction in the fall. Pennsylvania's larger independent universities, thus far, are planning to conduct classes through in-person instruction, with many offering an option for remote learning and some limits on class size.
FALL COLLEGE SPORTS
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference announced Wednesday that it has canceled fall sports.
The decision affects 18 schools, primarily those in the state-run university system.
"The entire conference has worked hard these last few months to prepare for the return of sports to our campuses beginning this fall," PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray said in a news release. "However, it has become apparent that the safe conduct of sports under the guidelines of social distancing is untenable for our members."
The conference said it's hoping to shift fall sports to the spring semester. A decision on winter and spring sports will be made later, PSAC said.
GUN PERMIT EXTENSION
Pennsylvania residents will be allowed to carry guns on expired permits for a little longer.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday granted another extension for holders of concealed carry permits. State police said that permits that expired March 19 or later have been extended to Sept. 30. The extension was granted because of the ongoing closure of some county courthouses and sheriff's offices.