(The Center Square) – Pittsburgh area bars and taverns must stop serving alcohol onsite effective Tuesday as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County rise.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen issued the order Friday after recording 393 new cases last week. Bogen said positive test rates climbed from less than 2 percent to more than 6 percent as of Friday.
“We’re going the wrong direction,” Fitzgerald said. “While most residents and businesses have been following the rules, these requirements and mitigation measures address the hot spots that have been identified during case investigations.”
Allegheny County moved into the green stage of Gov. Tom Wolf’s phased economic reopening plan on June 5. The least restrictive phase allowed bars and restaurants to reopen dining rooms at 50 percent capacity, so long as staff wore masks and other social distancing policies were implemented.
As of June 30, even patrons must wear masks – unless eating or drinking – and violations of the policy will result in the establishment closing down for at least one week while officials investigate.
“It is my duty to protect the health and safety of all Allegheny County residents and while we’ve taken significant steps to track and reduce the spread of this virus, we are still seeing significant increases,” Bogen said. “We’re taking these steps today to further protect the health and safety of all residents through my authority under the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law.”
KDKA reported that health officials said two Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Oakland and South Side, are of particular concern.
“These are severe steps, but we have to take steps now to limit the community spread that endangers those who are older, high-risk or otherwise immunocompromised,” Fitzgerald said.
Wolf supported the decision in a statement to the press Monday and encouraged other counties to recognize the example Fitzgerald and Bogen are setting.
“This was the right move to work to stop the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in its tracks and to remind all residents and businesses that the best defense we have in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and keeping Pennsylvanians safe is to continue to follow the mask-wearing requirement, practice social distancing, and follow safety guidelines even and especially during the green phase of reopening,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Licensed Bar and Tavern Association said, however, the measure goes too far in restricting the state’s hardest hit industry.
“We find the recent decision … to be an overly broad brush stroke that punishes law-abiding licensed restaurant owners, employees, and patrons who have followed guidance provided by both state and local officials,” said Curtis Mason, association president, in a letter addressed to state and local leaders Monday. “They shouldn’t be punished because of the actions of a few “bad actors.’”
Mason suggested that ineffective enforcement of the original preventative mandates caused the recent outbreak and targeting everyone in the industry as a result “is a death sentence.”
“Failure of government to enforce these guidelines should not be the justification for closing businesses that are supporting mitigation efforts through thorough compliance with guidelines,” he said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has confirmed just shy of 89,000 cases of COVID-19 since March 6. Of those, 78 percent of patients have recovered and 6,600 have died.