To the surprise and mixed reactions of many, on March 1 Governor Tom Wolf announced revisions to certain parts of the COVID-19 mitigation order pertaining to gatherings.
He also lifted out-of-state travel bans, essentially beginning the reopening process for Pennsylvania after months of shutdowns.
“Pennsylvania is taking a measured approach to revising or lifting mitigation orders,” Wolf said in response to his new plan. “The reason we are seeing cases drop can be attributed, in part, to people following the mitigation efforts we have in place. Mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene are making a difference and need to continue even as we see more and more people fully vaccinated.”
According to the Governor’s official website, the revised mitigation restrictions will include revised maximum occupancy limits for indoor events to allow for 15% of maximum occupancy, revised maximum occupancy limits for outdoor events to allow for 20% of maximum occupancy and elimination of out-of-state travel restrictions.
These new maximum occupancy restrictions will include staff as well as other people in attendance. There has also been talk of lifting the remaining mitigation orders on restaurants and bars.
According to a recent press conference held the day after the restrictions on occupancy and travel were lightened, Wolf announced an idea to allocate $145 million in grants for restaurants, bars and hotels in Pennsylvania.
Starting March 15, Wolf says that owners of such places will be allowed to apply at the county level for up to $50,000 in financial assistance. Organizations like the Pittsburgh Penguins were quick to jump on the new occupancy rules, announcing that fans could start attending games as soon as March 2.
Other organizations are not far behind. These new changes mean business for venues that rely on audiences for revenue. Social distancing, masks and hand hygiene will still be enforced and these new revisions still require for people to stay six feet apart from one another, but this is a start toward a potential full reopening so long as cases in Pennsylvania continue to drop and vaccine distribution is able to rise.
While this may seem like great news, the CDC advises now that each state should continue to be cautious as new cases of new variants continue to appear with experts predicting a fourth surge of the virus on the horizon.
They caution that now is not the time to introduce “expansive loosening of mitigation efforts known to put people more at risk.” It is imperative that we continue with our cautious measures and proceed carefully as the state moves to reopen.
Cases are still unacceptably high and with the slower speed of vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania, the majority is not yet completely vaccinated. Continuing to adhere to mask mandates and social distancing will help the cases drop and prepare us for the potential fourth wave. Being excited about this hope at normalcy is normal and expected, but we are not out of the woods just yet.