40 PA Restaurants Defying COVID-19 Mitigation Ordered To Close

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PENNSYLVANIA — The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has ordered 40 restaurants across the state to close for violating the mandate against indoor dining, officials said.

The state performed some 428 COVID-19 related inspections over the period of Dec. 14 through Dec. 20, as hundreds of businesses across the state joined a group protesting the additional coronavirus mitigation measures. The restaurants and gyms which refused to close, citing the crushing economic impact of the new round of restrictions, also joined a directory to advertise their defiance of the orders.

The state said they gave the restaurants in violation a chance to comply with the order before shutting them down. They send an "educational letter" before a surprise inspection, a warning letter, and an initial monetary citation. Ordered closures are a last measure.

"The Bureau of Food Safety has always operated with an education-first model, and always works to educate and correct issues on-site before taking official action," the Department of Agriculture said in a statement released last week. "Businesses will receive a closure order if they are confirmed to be operating in violation of the order and unwilling to cease dine-in service while the inspector is present."

RELATED: Hundreds of Businesses Defy Gov. Wolf's COVID-19 Mitigation Orders

Of the 428 inspections, 84 were due to public complaints received regarding violations of the coronavirus restrictions.

In addition to the 40 mandated closures, 180 written warnings were issued, according to authorities.

In some instances, businesses which received orders to close have publicly stated that they will continue to refuse to obey the order.

"Yes, C9 received a 'close order' on Friday. We have ZERO intention of closing and will remain open with inside seating. This has nothing to do with Covid, but rather a fight for the right to EARN a living," shared Stefanie Karli and Steve Heebner, the owners of Cloud 9 Cafe in Reading. "We have spent the past 10 mos following 'mandates,' working 60+ hours a week, only to end with a deficit and see no end in sight."

A total of 10 of the 40 closures were in Berks County, while the rest were spread across the state. The written warnings saw spikes in Lancaster (28), Berks (26), and Lebanon (14) counties, with smaller numbers in dozens of warnings issued to dining establishments in other counties.

Officials said earlier in the month that they would be taking a stricter approach to the enforcement of mandates than they took in the spring, when their chief focus was education.

Local law enforcement agencies around the state were briefed on these enforcement policies by the Pennsylvania State Police. It is up to local police to determine whether they will "warn or cite" businesses for any violations.

The most recent restrictions, which ban indoor dining, expire on Jan. 4. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the state has no plans to extend the date of these restrictions, but that they will be watching any post-holiday surge in new cases closely.

A lawsuit challenging the legality of the orders was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner in Harrisburg last week.

This article originally appeared on the Montgomeryville-Lansdale Patch

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