HARRISBURG, Pa. — Update, 4:36 p.m.: When asked why Governor Tom Wolf chose September 21st as the date for an increase to restaurants indoor capacity, the Governor said it seemed like a reasonable date.
"There is no magic," laughed Governor Wolf, when asked about a magic reason for the increase in restaurant indoor capacity. "I have been obviously talking to the restaurant owners."
Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine clarified more during a press conference later in the afternoon. Levine said the state set the Sept. 21 date for relaxing the restrictions to allow more time for restaurant owners and managers to complete the self-certification process. It also gives the state time to setup a database of self-certificates.
Meanwhile, House Republican Caucus Spokesperson Jason Gottesman reacted to the news via email. He told FOX43 the announcement is a step in the right direction but added, "opening restaurants to 50% is merely a break even point."
"The CDC and federal government folks were recommending we do this, and it would actually make a difference, and they were right," said Wolf. "I think it's why Dr. Birx was in Pennsylvania last week and said Pennsylvania is doing a good job. I have all along been concerned by the economic impact on the restaurant and bar industry which is why I asked for hundreds of millions of dollars to be directed to the industry."
"I think we've been really focused on how do we get to the next step, and here is the next step with the 50%," said Tellus360 manager Bill Speakman.
Speakman says Tellus360 has yet to open its indoor dining, but it will finally do so this Friday at the current limit of 25%. "We're feeling cautiously encouraged right now."
Tellus360 has also started showing sports games outside of the business. Speakman says workers use a projector to show the games. He also installed speakers so customers can hear and enjoy the entertainment.
Update, 1:15 p.m.: The Wolf administration published answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the self-certification process restaurants need to complete in order to be eligible to increase indoor seating to 50% of capacity.
Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday announced his administration is allowing restaurants to increase indoor occupancy limits to 50 percent capacity beginning Sept. 21, as long as they commit to strictly complying to all public COVID-19 safety and health guidelines by completing a self-certification process.
“While our aggressive and appropriate mitigation efforts have kept case counts low, we must continue to take important steps to protect public health and safety as we head into the fall," Wolf said in a press release. "At the same time, we must also support the retail food services industry that has struggled throughout this pandemic.
“The self-certification ensures that restaurants can expand indoor operations and commit to all appropriate orders so that employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected.”
Restaurants that self-certify will appear in the Open & Certified Pennsylvania searchable online database of certified restaurants across the commonwealth, Wolf's office said. Consumers will be able to access this database and find certified businesses in their area, ensuring that consumers can make more informed choices about the food establishments they are looking to patronize.
Wolf said the self-certification documents and information about the Open & Certified Pennsylvania program can be found online starting September 21 and will contain the following:
- A list of requirements contained in the current restaurant industry guidance and enforcement efforts;
- A statement that the owner has reviewed and agrees to follow these requirements;
- The business' maximum indoor occupancy number based on the fire code; and
- A statement that the owner understands that the certification is subject to penalties for unsworn falsification to authorities.
Any restaurant that wants to increase to 50 percent indoor capacity on September 21 must complete the online self-certification process by October 5, Wolf said.
Business owners should keep a copy of the self-certification confirmation they will receive by e-mail.
To be in compliance, restaurants must continue to practice social distancing, masking and other mitigation measures to protect workers and patrons.
Further, starting September 21, restaurants that have alcohol sales will close alcohol sales at 10 p.m., Wolf's office said.
Restaurants that self-certify will be mailed Open & Certified Pennsylvania branded materials, such as window clings and other signage designating their certification, which they can display for customers and employees, Wolf said.
The self-certification will be used as part of ongoing enforcement efforts conducted by Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and will be shared with the departments of State, Labor & Industry and Health, and other enforcement agencies, Wolf said.
Restaurants operating at 50 percent capacity will have their self-certification status checked as part of ongoing enforcement by these agencies starting on October 5, according to Wolf. Enforcement efforts will focus on educating businesses, he added.
"The commonwealth will continue its measured approach to easing restrictions, keeping the rest of the targeted mitigation tactics specific to the food retail industry in place as restaurants increase capacity to 50 percent," Wolf's announcement said. "Further, a restaurant’s listing in the Open & Certified Pennsylvania restaurant database shows it cares about its customers, employees, community and the economic future of the state."
The self-certification process is modelled after a similar mitigation effort in Connecticut, and the alcohol sales limitation is modelled after a similar mitigation effort in Ohio, Wolf's announcement said.
Boosting consumer confidence is critical for restaurants, as according to the most recent Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, only 40 percent of Americans are comfortable dining in local restaurants, Wolf said.
“We recognize the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Pennsylvania’s small businesses, especially on our restaurants,” he added. “Through this self-certification process, our commonwealth’s restaurant industry will ensure the safety and well-being of both employees and patrons alike, and will be able to begin a return to normal operations and financial recovery.”
Restaurant owners with additional questions about the self-certification program can contact email@example.com.