New guidelines for Pennsylvania gathering limits: What you need to know

New guidelines for Pennsylvania gathering limits going into effect Friday

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s adjusted capacity limits on gatherings went into effect Friday.

Amended orders will allow venue occupancy limits to play a bigger role in determining the number of people permitted both inside and outside.

THE NEW RULES

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The maximum occupancy for indoor events is as follows:

  • For venues with a maximum occupancy of 0-2,000 people: 20% of maximum occupancy will be allowed.
  • For venues with a maximum occupancy of 2,001-10,000 people: 15% of maximum occupancy will be allowed
  • For venues with a maximum occupancy of over 10,000 people: 10% of maximum occupancy will be allowed up to 3,750 people.

The maximum occupancy for outdoor events is as follows:

  • For venues with a maximum occupancy of 0-2,000 people: 25% of maximum occupancy will be allowed.
  • For venues with a maximum occupancy of 2,001-10,000 people: 20% of maximum occupancy will be allowed
  • For venues with a maximum occupancy of over 10,000 people: 15% of maximum occupancy will be allowed up to 7,500 people.

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Sporting events, fairs, festivals and concerts fall into the category of gatherings. In addition, the changes apply to parties and receptions within multi-room venues, amusement parks and business meetings or conferences.

However, the changes do not apply to groups of people who share a space within a building “in the ordinary course of operations.” That includes office buildings and classrooms.

All businesses are required to conduct operations remotely. If that is not possible, employees may conduct in-person business operations as long as the businesses fully comply with the business safety order, the worker safety order and the masking order.

COVID-19 mitigation efforts such as mask wearing and social distancing remain in place in all circumstances.

“Regardless of the size of an event or gathering, those things are still imperative to stopping the spread of COVID. We know everyone has sacrificed in many ways and today’s announcement reflects a gradual adjustment to our lives as we learn how we can do things safely until we have a cure, or an effective vaccine is widely available,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.

WHAT ABOUT RESTAURANTS?

Wolf’s order does not include expanding indoor dining capacity at restaurants. It’s something Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said the state is taking a look at, especially with the colder weather on the doorstep.

“I do know that’s absolutely on the Governor’s and Sec. Levine’s radar in terms of working out something given that, as you correctly pointed out, restaurants have been able to do okay, or better with outdoor dining. As we know, that’s going to go away at some point soon so it absolutely is under consideration,” he said.

Indoor dining was capped at 25% before it was raised to 50%.

“The Gov. has always sought a balance between lives and livelihoods, public safety, and just living your life. I’m sorry some of the people are frustrated but this pandemic is serious. We’ve seen what it can do. The most protected man in the world wasn’t immune. So we just want to make sure that we walk that line,” Fetterman said.

Fetterman did not give a timetable on when a decision would be announced.

The CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association released a statement:

“Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Levine amended safety guidelines for indoor and outdoor events today. Again, the administration missed the mark by creating a cumbersome and illogical calculator to determine the capacity for indoor and outdoor events. These new mandates further victimize the struggling event industry. In fact, the amended guidelines demonstrate a lack of understanding of how the catering, event planning, and venue industries operate. The new limitations are overly confusing, place an unnecessary burden on venue operators and would not seem to have any effect on safety when social distancing and face masking protocols are observed. Moreover, for a 100-person venue, the new guidelines of 20% occupancy reduce the number of people allowed and contradict previous mandates that currently exist. For example, if a venue has a maximum capacity of 10,001, they are limited to 1,001. Yet, if a competing venue has a capacity of just two less individuals, 9,999, they can host more than 400 more people. How does this make sense in any way?”

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Soon, more cheers will again be heard from fans in the stands. Change is on the way at Mars Area High School, and to local high school sports.

“We are excited! We’re at least to have people in here,” said Mars Athletic Director Scott Heinauer.

Bigger schools like Pine Richland and North Allegheny will be able to have about 2,000 people. Gateway can have about 1,100 for games.

“I think you’re trying to keep a reasonable number of people in the stadium to not overfill a stadium and risk the natural concerns of people being too close together,” said Gateway Athletic Director Don Holl.

The changes will also have a major impact on indoor sports like volleyball. Many school gymnasiums can accommodate an occupancy of about 2,000 people.

School district leaders said they’re going through the new rule changes closely and plan to update families in the coming days.

REACTION TO THE CHANGES

For the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the governor’s announcement today was encouraging.

“The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is encouraged by the actions of Governor Wolf to make it possible for more people to work at and to attend concerts and events at Heinz Hall. We continue to keep the health and safety of our musicians, staff and audience as our top priority, and will use government restrictions and healthy authority expertise for guidance as we navigate our way through this pandemic,” said Melia Tourangeau, president and CEO, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Some organizers say the change still isn’t enough to make a difference.

“The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust appreciates that Governor Wolf is continuing to dedicate such time and thought to the reopening of event venues in Pennsylvania. The new maximum occupancy calculator for indoor events is an encouraging step in our road to reopening. However, we cannot financially operate our venues at a occupancy rate of 15 or 20 percent. Consequently, this announcement does not affect the Trust’s immediate plans. We will continue to look to our state government and health experts for guidance on a safe return to the Cultural District,” said Kevin McMahon, President and CEO, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health said this is a balancing act.

“While we understand there are places that are going to continue to have a financial burden, the financial burden is a lot greater when we lose so many people to a virus we could have stopped the spread of,” said April Hutcheson.

Venues and event planners can review the CDC Events and Gatherings Readiness and Planning Tool for additional information.

When not hosting events, occupancy restrictions outlined in the green phase of reopening continue to apply to businesses.

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