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COVID In Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf Bans Indoor Dining, Closes Gyms, Halts High School Sports For 3 Weeks

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) -- Pennsylvania is temporarily halting school sports and other extracurricular activities, ordering gyms, theaters and casinos to close and banning indoor dining at restaurants as state officials respond to an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations with new restrictions. A day after announcing his own COVID-19 diagnosis, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the widely expected clampdown Thursday in what he said was an effort to slow the accelerating spread of the coronavirus and prevent hospitals from becoming overrun.

"The problem we're all facing is that this virus continues to rage in Pennsylvania, and over the past several weeks it's become clear we need to take further mitigation actions to protect Pennsylvanians and stop the spread of COVID-19," Wolf said during a virtual news conference. "We all hoped it wouldn't come to this, and that's the point. The current state of the surge in Pennsylvania will not allow us to wait. We need to slow the spread right now in order to save lives. If we don't, we're going to be in big trouble."

The restrictions include an indoor gathering limit of 10 and an outdoor gathering limit of 50. Retail stores may operate up to 50% capacity while gyms and indoor fitness centers will be ordered to close.

Movie theaters, concert venues, museums, casinos, bowling alleys and other entertainment venues will also be prohibited, Wolf said.

In-person extracurricular activities at schools will be paused as well as all sports at K-12 schools in the commonwealth, according to Wolf. Professional and collegiate sports may continue to operate but fans remain banned from attending games.

Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other houses of worship were excluded from the indoor gathering limits, but state officials "strongly encouraged" them to avoid congregating inside. Faith leaders should "carefully weigh the health risks to their congregants given the immense amount of community spread of COVID-19," the state's advisory said.

The restrictions go into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 12 until 8 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2021, Wolf said.

Wolf had said on Monday that additional pandemic measures might be needed to slow the spread of the virus, warning that hospitals were under increasing strain and would have to start turning away patients if they become overwhelmed.

He tested positive for the coronavirus a day later and revealed the diagnosis on Wednesday. He said Thursday he is feeling fine and that his most recent test was negative.

His office said Wolf was found to have the virus after he underwent a routine surveillance test at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, where he has been working.

Wolf's spouse, Frances Wolf, tested negative for the virus but will continue to quarantine with him at their home in Mount Wolf, near York, the governor's office said Thursday.

Wolf said the restrictions are necessary until the distribution of a vaccine is underway.

"This is so frustrating and so painful," Wolf said, "but we can get there and there is light at the end of the tunnel."

Republican lawmakers have staunchly opposed most of Wolf's restrictions since mid-April and have accused him of abusing his powers. Anticipating that Wolf would announce a new round of restrictions, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, warned him against it Thursday.

"Do not use your executive order pen to devastate lives and livelihoods," Benninghoff said in a statement.

The virus is taking an increasingly heavy toll on the state, which is now averaging 10,000 new confirmed cases a day and has a record number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Pennsylvania reported 248 new deaths Thursday as the statewide toll passed 12,000.

The Wolf administration had already imposed indoor capacity restrictions on bars and restaurants, limited indoor and outdoor gatherings, mandated the wearing of masks, and required out-of-state travelers to test negative for the virus before arrival. Health officials have also begged people to stay at home whenever possible.

But Wolf acknowledged Monday those measures and advisories have not prevented Pennsylvania's numbers from going in the wrong direction amid the national surge.

The state is now averaging 10,000 new confirmed cases a day and has a record number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital. Pennsylvania reported 248 new deaths Thursday as the statewide toll passed 12,000.

Some hospitals are running out of intensive-care unit beds, and more than a third of hospitals in a broad swath of southern Pennsylvania anticipates staffing shortages over the next week, according to the state Department of Health.

"The number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by 4,400 since the end of September," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. "Many hospitals across the state have few ICU beds, if any."

Health system executives and front-line medical workers alike said Thursday that the COVID situation was increasingly dire and required the state to act.

"As soon as a bed opens, it's filled again," Mitchell Davis, a Pittsburgh nurse, said in a statement distributed by the state's largest union of health care workers. "We need support from the community, support from the government, and support from our employers to be able to fight this and win."

CBS3's Natasha Brown and Greg Argos contributed to this report.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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