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Philly OKs indoor weddings and catered events, further easing coronavirus restrictions

Indoor dining capacity will also increase, along with the number of people allowed at restaurant tables. But with vaccinations slowing, officials warned residents not to skip second shots.

A person is administered a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a city mass vaccination clinic at the Salvation Army at 55th and Market in West Philadelphia on Friday, March 26, 2021.
A person is administered a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a city mass vaccination clinic at the Salvation Army at 55th and Market in West Philadelphia on Friday, March 26, 2021.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Indoor weddings and other catered events in Philadelphia will be cleared to resume next week, City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday, and more diners will be allowed in city restaurants and seated at each table.

The rate of new cases of the coronavirus decreased in the city in the last week after a recent surge in cases, making it possible to further ease restrictions, Farley said. Still, he urged residents to continue holding events outdoors when possible and to get the COVID-19 vaccination.

“For those people planning their weddings or social events, ask now for people to get vaccinated for your events,” Farley said. “Put it in your invitations.”

Catered events will have a limit of 25% capacity and a maximum of 75 people, including guests and staff, Farley said. Masks will be required, he said, and can only be taken off when people are sitting at a table and eating. The city will release more specific guidelines later in the week. If case rates continue to decline, Farley said the cap for catered events could increase from 75 to 150 on May 21.

For indoor dining, table size limits will increase from four people to six. Outdoors, parties can increase from six people to 10.

Restaurants will be permitted to increase indoor dining capacity from 25% to 50%. Restaurants that have met enhanced ventilation standards can go from 50% to 75% of capacity.

The new limits go into effect May 7.

» READ MORE: Updating COVID-19 guidelines, CDC says many Americans can go outside without masks

The average rate of new cases per day was also dropping in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware after recent surges, according to an Inquirer analysis of health departments’ data.

But the number of coronavirus vaccinations was also declining in the city, with about 74,000 shots administered last week compared to 104,000 the previous week. The city has also seen people skipping their second doses, which are critical for peak immunity.

The Pennsylvania Convention Center mass clinic, which can vaccinate as many as 6,000 people per day, has given between 500 and 1,000 shots in each of the past few days. And the clinic at Esperanza in Hunting Park, which can vaccinate at least 1,000 people per day, has been giving a few hundred shots per day.

“It’s definitely substantially less than what it’s capable of doing,” Farley said of the mass sites.

The drop-off in vaccinations has not been as steep at neighborhood-based clinics, Farley said, so the city will seek to expand availability at those sites and help people get vaccinated close to where they live.

About 34% of Philadelphia residents age 18 and older have been fully vaccinated, Farley said. Of residents age 65 and older, Farley said that 55% have been vaccinated.

“More to go, but we’re clearly making progress there,” Farley said.

» READ MORE: Lower Merion School District says a ventilation flaw could have fueled a COVID-19 outbreak in second-grade classroom

The city is also offering more opportunities for residents to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as providers across the region restart use of the vaccine after a pause due to a very rare but serious clotting disorder reported in a half-dozen people.

The Convention Center site, which offers online appointments as well as walk-ins, is using the two-dose Pfizer vaccine but will also offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Saturday for people who prefer a single dose, Farley said. He said the clinic will have two separate lines for the two types of vaccination, so people can choose which to get.

Like in the collar counties and elsewhere in the state, other providers are also offering the Johnson & Johnson shot, including health-care providers who serve harder-to-reach people, such as homebound residents, for whom getting two shots would be more difficult.

Statewide, 48.1% of Pennsylvania’s population has received at least one dose, according to federal data, and 50.4% of the population in New Jersey, where health officials on Monday also lifted some crowd restrictions.

Despite the drop in case numbers, recent coronavirus deaths per day have increased, an expected result of the case surge of preceding weeks, Farley said. For the week of April 11, the city had 56 deaths. The weekly death count had been as low as about 20 in March, Farley said.

“We did expect that the number of deaths [per week] would rise beyond 50 and it has done that,” Farley said.

Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.