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Philly halts reopening of indoor dining and gyms as concern over virus’ spread in other states grows

“We want to get our economy going as much as we can, but we don’t want the virus to resurge,” said City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

On Main Street in Manayunk, Ryan Monte and Stephanie Santamaria dine outdoors at the New Leaf II on Tuesday. The city postponed plans to allow indoor dining that was to begin Friday.
On Main Street in Manayunk, Ryan Monte and Stephanie Santamaria dine outdoors at the New Leaf II on Tuesday. The city postponed plans to allow indoor dining that was to begin Friday.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Indoor dining won’t resume and gyms won’t open in Philadelphia this week, after city officials on Tuesday halted certain reopening plans for at least another month. They joined officials in New Jersey and Delaware who have also slowed the return to normal activities amid new spreading of the coronavirus nationwide.

Indoor shopping malls, casinos, museums, and libraries in the city will still be allowed to open Friday, with strict mask-wearing requirements and other health precautions in place, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced Tuesday. No eating or drinking will be permitted inside.

“We want to get our economy going as much as we can, but we don’t want the virus to resurge,” Farley said. “So it’s always a tough balancing act, and we feel that this is the right decision at this point.”

Delaware on Tuesday ordered bars in all beach towns to close indefinitely by Friday due to a “resurgence” of cases in the area, and New Jersey has postponed indoor dining, citing the same concerns about other states that have had to reinstate restrictions after reopening.

The number of new U.S. infections has increased by 80% over the last two weeks, according to data collected by the New York Times, including sharp increases in the South and West. In Florida and Texas, officials imposed new restrictions on bars.

Farley said he remained concerned about the impact that a national surge in cases could have on Philadelphia. “I want the businesses to reopen as much as anybody,” he said, “but at the same time I think officials in Florida and Texas are regretting it right now, and I don’t want us to be there in the future.”

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Case counts in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania have begun slowly rising, rather than falling, over the last week. In interviews with the city, many newly infected people said they had recently shared houses at the Shore or socialized at bars or restaurants, Farley said.

Earlier in June, the city had reached a steady average of 100 new cases per day; 142 were reported Tuesday. A number of them were teens who reported traveling to the Jersey Shore and socializing, Farley said.

Based on contact tracing, the recent uptick in cases appeared to be tied to social gatherings. Farley said he believed that if the protests following the death of George Floyd had caused an increase in cases, it would have occurred earlier.

Unlike its surrounding counties, which are following state guidance for what activities and businesses can resume under the governor’s “green” phase of reopening, Philadelphia has taken a more restrictive approach, imposing its own rules. Further reopening will be on hold until Aug. 1, and the city will assess its progress weekly, officials said.

Rob Wasserman, owner of Rittenhouse Square eatery Rouge and other high-end restaurants, said he was “certainly disappointed” by the delay but understood the need to operate for the greater good: ”Obviously, we’re all in this together,” he said Tuesday.

Still, Wasserman, who owns Twenty Manning Grill and Audrey Claire and is a partner in Snap Custom Pizza, had been in the process of hiring more employees and has put that on hold. ”It’s a real struggle,” he said.

Teddy Sourias, owner of several Center City fixtures including Brü Craft & Wurst, Tradesman’s, and Finn McCool’s Ale House, said he had heard rumors over the weekend that the indoor reopening might be postponed. Though he’d bought acrylic glass partitions and food in preparation, Sourias said he’d rather have the delay now, during the normally slower summer months, than in the fall, when he hopes business will pick up.

“The blow was softened because we expected it, but it hurts,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut expanded their quarantine for out-of-state travelers to include 16 states with a high level of community spread, and Philadelphia also asked anyone returning from the same states to quarantine for 14 days.

The advisories apply to residents returning from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas or Utah.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney said the state needed to stop an outbreak in its beach communities “before it reaches more people.”

Testing in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach revealed a spike in cases among largely asymptomatic young people, pushing the percentage of positive tests in Sussex County over 10%, said Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health.

Three lifeguards in Rehoboth Beach tested positive, the city said, but officials believed they had had very little contact with the public.

In the state’s two other counties — New Castle and Kent — the percentage of positive cases remained flat.

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New Jersey has reduced its number of COVID-19 cases by 95% since hitting its peak in April, Murphy said at his daily news briefing, but he warned that the overall rate of transmission has continued to fluctuate in recent days.

“We must keep that number in check if we are to continue on our road back,” Murphy said.

According to numbers collected by the COVID Tracking Project, which was launched in partnership with the Atlantic, New Jersey and New York have reduced their numbers of new cases by more than almost any other state.

After postponing indoor dining Monday, Murphy banned smoking, eating, and drinking in the state’s casinos. As of Tuesday, Borgata said it would not open, but all other casinos in Atlantic City said they would open on Thursday or Friday.

“I know the administration is trying to protect people,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, the casino workers union in Atlantic City. “But whoever came up with the idea of opening up 2,000-room casino hotels without any indoor dining, without any smoking, without any beverage service on the casino floor — only a person who knows nothing about the industry would suggest it’s a good idea.”

Murphy defended his decision Tuesday, saying on Today that he understood the pain of restaurant owners but feared reopening could “ignite a public health crisis.”

“We want to give ourselves a couple more weeks to make sure we can drive this thing close to the ground,” Murphy said. “We’ve gone through hell. The last thing we want to do is go through hell again.”

Staff writers Rob Tornoe, Amy S. Rosenberg, and Robert Moran contributed to this article.