The tradition of hanging at a bar with your friends on the night before Thanksgiving won’t happen this year.
In a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Health Secretary Rachel Levine ordered on-premises alcohol sales at bars and restaurants to shut down at 5 p.m.. Thanksgiving eve, one of the busiest nights of the year for service industry. The edicts set to expire at 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Sales of cocktails to go will still be allowed.
The move will curtail six hours of alcohol sales. Under current state guidelines, on-site consumption of alcohol must end at 11 p.m., and all alcoholic beverages must be removed from patrons by midnight. Sales may resume at 8 a.m. daily.
“It turns out the biggest day for drinking is the day before Thanksgiving … I don’t like addressing that any more than anyone else does but it’s a fact. When people get together in that situation, it leads to the exchange of fluids that leads to the increase in infection,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.
“So this is one of the many steps we’re taking to say: if we all do this together, we’re going to defeat this virus. That’s what we should be focusing on, not whether we want to get a transitory benefit from going out with friends the day after tomorrow and have some drinks. Let’s forgo that, this one time. If we do that and all those things … we can go to bars anytime we want.”
Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores will be open normal hours Wednesday. The idea, spokesperson Kevin Hensil said, is “limiting congregation in bars and restaurants, which has been repeatedly shown to spread the virus.”
Reaction from the restaurant community was swift.
Restaurateur Marc Vetri, who has not been shy with his outrage over government restrictions, kicked up a Twitter storm by replying, “He can go f— himself” to a message referring to Levine and her action. Vetri later said Wolf was his intended target and not Levine, who is transgender. He deleted the tweet and tweeted an apology.
“It’s yet another blow to our industry,” said Teddy Sourias, who owns five bars and restaurants in Center City, including Tradesman’s and Finn McCool’s.
“Every single day of sales counts right now and they take away another day. People will gather on the biggest party night of the year regardless. At least our restaurants we would have provided them with a safer option since we have trained staff and all these guidelines in place to protect them.”
Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, said that while he found the announcement to be “bad news” for the industry, he praised Wolf for granting businesses immunity from civil liability for those enforcing mask rules. “But what we don’t get is why there has been no significant financial help to assist our small business taverns and licensed restaurants survive,” he said in a statement. “As this crisis continues, more small businesses are closing while their employees lose jobs.”
In addition to the restriction on bars and restaurants, Levine also issued a stay at home advisory. Indoor events with more than 500 people are now prohibited, Levine said, as are events with 2,500 or more people outside.
Levine said all new orders will be enforced by law enforcement and could result in regulatory consequences for “repeat offenders.”
The new restrictions and guidance were announced as health officials nationwide continue to discourage large, multi-household holiday gatherings in light of rapidly rising case counts and hospitalizations.
“I think you all know the commonwealth is a precarious place right now,” Wolf said. “We have gotten into a place where we have more cases now than we have ever had,” as well as more hospitalizations.
Pennsylvania could run out of ICU beds within the week, Levine said earlier Monday in a statement.
On Sunday and Monday, the commonwealth reported a combined 11,837 additional confirmed cases, officials said. It is now averaging nearly 6,400 new cases a day over the past seven days, according to an Inquirer analysis of state data.
The statewide positivity rate climbed to 11.1% last week, according to state data. Due to the pandemic, bars and restaurants have already been limited to up to 50% indoor capacity throughout the state, while the city of Philadelphia shut down indoor service altogether last Friday afternoon.