Indoor dining returning to Philadelphia on Sept. 8 — with restrictions

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By KYW Newsradio 1060

UPDATED: Aug. 21, 9 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney announced Thursday that indoor dining will resume in Philadelphia on Sept. 8 with restrictions, marking what officials hope will be a turning point in the city's recovery from the coronavirus.

Philadelphia health officials ordered restaurants closed five months ago over concerns of the spread of COVID-19. The ban on indoor dining conditions was supposed to be lifted at the start of August, but health officials said transmission trends of the virus couldn't allow it — so the ban was extended to Sept. 1.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s 25% capacity restriction, as well as a requirement that customers order prepared food in order to sit indoors, would still apply.Restaurants outside of Philadelphia are allowing indoor dining at 25% capacity.In his daily coronavirus briefing, Kenney said restrictions on indoor dining would match or exceed restrictions set by the state.

Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said the date was chosen in order to avoid Labor Day holiday crowds. 

“We don’t want to start out with a large number of people in one place in a very high-risk situation,” he explained.

Assuming no significant reversal in recent progress against the coronavirus, restaurants will have to meet no more than 25% capacity, with tables of four seats or fewer spaced no less than 6 feet apart. There is to be no seating at bars, and no alcoholic beverages are to be served except during meals.

Servers must wear face masks and face shields, Farley said, because they are at the greatest risk.

Farley asked restaurant owners to take the precautions this very seriously, encouraging them to improve ventilation. He said the city will be enforcing the restrictions as much as possible and will be quick to close restaurants down if patrons do not comply.

"Indoor dining is inherently risky,” he said. “People are indoors, where we know the risk is greater. People are not wearing masks, because they’re eating and drinking. Also, there have been clusters in restaurants that have occurred across the country and in other counties in Pennsylvania.

“We only have so many inspectors and we don’t know how many restaurants will choose to do indoor dining, but it may be in the thousands. However, we will be hiring additional staff to educate restaurants about what they need to do.”

Farley's key theme: Masks are the most important line of defense.

Restaurants are preparing for the change. Greg’s Kitchen, a small breakfast and lunch spot on Main Street in Manayunk, has had a challenging five months. 

"We’ll probably have a couple tables inside, and we’ll have them spaced out more than six feet, because 25% is probably six to eight people. So, we’ll see what happens," he said. "I want to make sure the diners are comfortable. I want to make sure my employees are comfortable. That I’m comfortable."

Gillin says people in the area have been taking mask-wearing and social-distancing seriously, and he hopes if that continues, capacity restrictions can loosen up.

The city has seen a decrease in COVID-19 case counts and in the percent positivity rate. And, more people are agreeing to participate in contact tracing, he said. However, the city may reverse course at any time if there is a repeated increase in viral spread, or if the overall trends go in the wrong direction.

“We’re very, very close, so in hopes we will have continued progress over the next two weeks, we will allow more activities to restart,” Farley said.

Most respiratory viruses tend to get worse in late fall and winter, so we could see more restrictions in the future, he said.

Besides restaurants, the city will allow indoor theaters to have up to 25 people. Patrons must wear masks at all times, and no food or drink may be served. 

Indoor gatherings are capped at 25 people, and outdoor gatherings are capped at 50.

People are most likely to be infected by relatives and close friends, Farley said, so he strongly encouraged people to wear masks around them.

“Let’s not push the envelope,” Kenney reiterated. “Let’s follow the rules, and actually, those rules have made us safer and have gotten us to this point, so please, I beg you to follow the rules.”

KYW Newsradio's Tim Jimenez and Pat Loeb contributed to this report.