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Many Philly holiday parties are on, despite health commissioner’s COVID warning

“It’s a recommendation, not a mandate,” said one partygoer.

Stephen Fried (on the right), a Philadelphia author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, threw his annual party Thursday at the Pen & Pencil Club. The venue checked vaccination cards at the door for entry.
Stephen Fried (on the right), a Philadelphia author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, threw his annual party Thursday at the Pen & Pencil Club. The venue checked vaccination cards at the door for entry.Read moreStephen Fried

The party bubbled along on Wednesday night at the Pen & Pencil Club in Center City — after club manager Raphael Tiberino scrutinized vaccination cards before waving in revelers.

Small, private parties for friends and office workers appear to be going ahead, flouting Philadelphia’s health commissioner’s warning on Wednesday not to gather with family, friends, or co-workers indoors. Meanwhile, larger corporate parties went ahead outdoors.

A few attendees at the Pen & Pencil Club soiree said it was too late for the health commissioner’s note of caution, including Christ Dhimitri, founder and former owner of Chris’s Jazz Cafe on Sansom Street, who noshed on flatbread and sipped red wine.

“The club manager insisted on everyone being fully vaccinated before coming in, and even turned someone away, who got really pissed off. But he kept it really above board,” he said.

“We did have a conversation about whether to cancel,” said author and journalism professor Stephen Fried, who hosts the annual party. “Pen & Pencil’s policy of making people show proof of vaccination gave us the comfort to go ahead,” he said. “So we understood there was a risk, but we hadn’t done the annual party in two years. A few people didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t attend. We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout.”

The Pen & Pencil, among the nation’s oldest press clubs founded in 1892, includes members from The Inquirer and other media outlets throughout the region. The club implemented its vaccination policy when it reopened in the summer.

“This is the way we live now: you either go or not. If you go, the next day you have the conversation about whether you should have. Every sniffle or stomach ache, you worry,” Fried said.

The health commissioner’s recommendation is not a mandate. And Philadelphia will soon require businesses to check patrons’ proof of vaccination -- although enforcement is spotty.

Starting in January, Philadelphia will require thousands of businesses to check patrons’ proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a stringent new rule that carries a $2,000 per day penalty for those that don’t comply. But a review of city records shows few businesses have gotten into serious trouble for noncompliance with coronavirus restrictions since the pandemic began, suggesting enforcement will be uneven under the new, tougher guidelines.

A recommendation, not a mandate

Some office party hosts chose outdoor venues to avoid the debate altogether.

A Kid Again Philly’s holiday party took place Dec. 12 at Diggerland in West Berlin, N.J. The charitable group serves children under 20 years of age who have a life-threatening medical condition and used the party as a way to invite 100 or more families to see one another. Because of medical costs, many families can’t afford activities like a trip to Diggerland amusement park, zoos, or museums, so A Kid Again hosts gatherings at no cost, said spokesperson Julie Daubenmire.

“We threw it outside for health reasons, as COVID is a big concern. All our chapters are trying to make things as safe as possible,” she said. Since this was outdoors, masks weren’t required, nor a vaccine or negative COVID test. However, many family members still did wear masks even when outside.

A Kid Again’s indoor events policy requires that masks be worn. Anyone who is eligible for a vaccine must be vaccinated, and anyone not vaccinated must show a negative test.

Alpha Architect, a financial services and investment firm in Broomall, said they’re going forward with a Friday holiday party by offering a “hybrid indoor-outdoor get-together,” said executive Patrick Cleary.

“Vaccination rates are pretty high out here,” he said. About 50 guests and their children are expected.

Dilworth Paxson law firm held their office holiday party on Wednesday evening at LOVE Park’s outdoor beer garden, according to one attendee. The Union League of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Club are still going ahead with hosting all holiday parties, dinners, and events, and require proof of vaccination.