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Pa. restaurants can increase capacity starting Sept. 21 – but there are some catches

Restaurants in Pennsylvania can return to operating at 50% capacity starting Sept. 21, Gov. Tom Wolf announced today.

Restaurants have been limited to 25% capacity since July 16, when capacity was rolled back and bar seating was prohibited after a spike in COVID-19 cases from the initial opening when most of the state’s counties entered the green phase of the reopening plan June 26.

However, as part of the increase in capacity, restaurants must commit to strictly complying with all COVID-19 safety guidelines and orders through a self-certification process and agree to close alcohol sales at 10 p.m.

While many restaurants have been closing at earlier hours because of the restrictions, many have maintained later hours – keeping their kitchens open so that alcohol can be served.

Under current restrictions alcohol can only be served when accompanying a meal.

“While our aggressive and appropriate mitigation efforts have kept case counts low, we must continue to take important steps to protect public health and safety as we head into the fall. At the same time, we must also support the retail food services industry that has struggled throughout this pandemic,” Gov. Wolf said. “The self-certification ensures that restaurants can expand indoor operations and commit to all appropriate orders so that employees and customers alike can be confident they are properly protected.”

The self-certification will be used as part of enforcement efforts conducted by Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, and will be shared with the departments of State, Labor & Industry and Health, and other enforcement agencies.

Wolf said in a release that those restaurants that want to increase their capacity to 50% must complete the online self-certification process by Oct. 5.

The self-certification documents and information about the Open & Certified Pennsylvania program can be found online starting Sept.21.

Social distancing, masking and other mitigation measures must be employed to protect workers and patrons.

All other restrictions announced in July will remain in place.

Restaurants that self-certify will appear in the Open & Certified Pennsylvania searchable online database of certified restaurants across the state.

Wolf said the self-certification process is modeled after a similar mitigation effort in Connecticut, and the alcohol sales limitation is modeled after a similar mitigation effort in Ohio.

Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at swescoe@bridgetowermedia.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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