List Of PA Businesses Defying Closure Orders Grows To 600

·4 min read

PENNSYLVANIA — As they said they would do, state officials have enforced Gov. Wolf's shutdown orders at many businesses around the state that refused to comply with mandatory mitigation measures over the last few weeks. But the threat of fines and closure has not stopped hundreds of other businesses across Pennsylvania from continuing to defy the orders, which businesses in the struggling restaurant and gym industries say represents a death blow.

An online directory of businesses in open defiance at PALockdown.com has swelled from around 250 on Dec. 15 to just under 600 as of late Tuesday morning (every business on this listing has not had its opening status independently verified by Patch, and at least three restaurants on the directory have been incorrectly listed as open).

Meanwhile, the Facebook group "Pennsylvania Opening Businesses/ Defying the Governor" launched in early December has continued to grow: it now boasts more than 75,000 members.

"This is not a decision I have made lightly," shared Gina D'Acierno, owner of John Anthony's Restaurant in Allegheny County, on her decision to open for indoor dining. "Covid is real. We’ve lost people we know and I have a neighbor fighting for his life as we speak...This is a decision to save my business."

Business owners are also concerned that the mitigation measures, set to expire on Jan. 4, will be extended beyond that date statewide. Philadelphia has already announced that their "Safer at Home" restrictions will be in place through Jan. 15. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said last week that officials would be closely monitoring any post-holiday surge in cases, but that the state has no plans for such an extension.

D'Acierno contends otherwise.

"I have heard from several sources that Wolf is extending his order past January 4th which is why I decided not to wait (to open)," she wrote. "One more week closed is one more week with bills piling up."

A total of 40 restaurants have been ordered to shut down by the Department of Agriculture due to COVID-19 violations. Another 180 written warnings were issued. 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.

Elsewhere, restaurants are looking to challenge the shutdown orders in court. One suit was dismissed in federal court in Pennsylvania last week by U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner, who upheld the orders as constitutional. Specifically, Conner rejected the suit's claim that there was no distinction between restaurants and other establishments that have been allowed to remain open, as masks must be taken off for dining and drinking.

Restaurateur Dave Magrogan, founder of Harvest Seasonal Grill and Kildare's Irish Pub, is one of several establishments that have joined in another suit against the state that's currently being considered. Though the suit only lists a few establishments, Magrogan said in a series of social media posts that the litigation represents the entire restaurant industry in Pennsylvania. The group is adamant that the Stanford and Yale studies cited by the Wolf administration showing that indoor dining causes the spread of coronavirus are flawed.

"Contact tracing has PROVEN restaurants that follow safety precautions don’t spread the virus," Magrogan wrote. "The commonwealth knows this fact but clings to outdated computer models that do not factor in mitigation."

RELATED: Contact Tracing Shows Little COVID-19 Spread In Restaurants, Some County Officials Say

Levine has previously cited the studies when questioned on the mitigation orders, saying that exact contact tracing is unreliable due to the overwhelming number of cases in the community right now, and that they considered national data when making the decision.

"It has been very clearly shown that restaurants serve as a significant source of spread," Levine said.

But Magrogan and others filing the suit say that the conclusions reached by the Stanford and Yale studies do not consider the existing mitigation efforts put in place by restaurants in Pennsylvania, such as separated seating, and 25 or 50 percent capacity restrictions.

As coronavirus metrics statewide show continued improvement over the last few weeks, officials point to the restrictions as part of the reason.

“This is the second consecutive week that we see a decrease in percent positivity, providing us with data that our efforts to reduce and mitigate the spread are working,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement Monday.

Case numbers, hospitalizations, and percent positivity rate on tests have all trended downward in recent weeks, with the positivity rate down to 15.1 percent from 16.1 percent two weeks ago.

This article originally appeared on the Montgomeryville-Lansdale Patch

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