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May 5—Minutes after the news hit, John Adams' cellphone rang about 10 times.
Out picking up lunch, he quickly learned Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the end of all COVID-19 occupancy restrictions on restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, ballparks and other places people gather, effective Memorial Day, May 31.
Reactions to Tuesday's announcement ranged from cautious optimism to sheer joy for venue owners and operators, who struggled to survive the pandemic for the last year. Friends and coworkers buzzed Adams, the president of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for the last 16 months, who still hasn't seen the team play at PNC Field.
"Obviously, we're super optimistic. And the announcement ... I think created a mini party here," Adams said. "We're just cautiously optimistic at this point, just because we have to wait for some some final confirmation from Major League Baseball."
Adams said the team planned for a maximum of 3,000 fans at games with pod seating and social distancing this year, which will still happen for the 12 home games this month. After that, the stadium can get closer to its usual capacity of 10,000.
Even then, he said, the team will keep pod seating for baseball scouts and players and buffer zones around dugouts and bullpens, which could restrict seating. The team will still also enforce social distancing at entrances and in concession lines and the merchandise store and will prevent fans from crowding together during batting practice or other pregame events. Fans may be able to leave and reenter the ballpark during rain delays to avoid crowding, he said.
The governor said wearing a mask will remain required until at least 70% of Pennsylvanians 18 and older have received vaccinations against the virus. The state follows federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that allow fully vaccinated people to go without masks outdoors when not among crowds and indoors among others already vaccinated. A state Department of Health spokeswoman said businesses should still promote social distancing.
John Cardoni, the still laid-off general manager at the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple, welcomed the "absolutely wonderful" news.
"You only have so much left in your reserves after a year of trying to get by and then to be facing a fall season or a winter season where you maybe had 5% possible sales," Cardoni said. "So this is huge news all the way around."
Weddings and other personal events make up a huge part of the center's business, he said. The center has a wedding booked in late June and one or two in July, Cardoni said.
"I would expect our special events director's phone will explode as the news gets around," he said.
He predicted theater groups, musical acts and other entertainers will launch tours in droves, which could mean a boon for this and other centers.
"Everybody from late-night show hosts with empty theaters to rock bands to local bands, everybody's dying to get out," Cardoni said. "I hope there'll be some reasonableness in terms of expectations and fees."
Steve Masterson, owner of Stage West in West Scranton, said his bar and concert venue has mostly stayed closed except for weekends, and is ecstatic."
"I feel like everyone's ready for it," Masterson said. "The few times that we have had music at Stage West has been a great response. So I'm hoping that that continues for the rest of 2021."
Other venues are gearing up for shows.
The F.M. Kirby announced Tuesday that comedian and podcast host Theo Von will perform at the center Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. during his live stand-up tour. The center previously announced television personality, author and Food Network star Alton Brown will visit Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. next year. Another announcement will come next week, said Kirby Center artistic director Anne Rodella.
"The governor's announcement today means more announcements and more shows," Rodella said.
Will Beekman, general manager of Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Twp., said he couldn't overstate how difficult the last 14 months have been for venues, agents, promoters and artists but he said "we are ready to put all of that behind us."
"We have so many great acts holding dates during the second half of this year, and now we are free to work on making them a reality," Beekman said. "We've all worked together to weather the storm, and now we can get back to doing what we love to do."
Beekman said the news is great not only for Mohegan Sun Arena, but for restaurants, hotels and other businesses as well.
"We are back," he said. "And we are ready to hit the ground running."
Joshua Mast, co-owner of Posh at the Scranton Club, is among the cautiously optimistic. The pandemic hurt business so much he probably won't know for sure that Posh will survive until next April. May is one of its busiest times with graduations and First Holy Communion gatherings.
"The primary part of our business is private events. Those are starting to come back," Mast said. "But still the number of guests at those events is much smaller than what it was in the past. Even this past weekend, it was First Holy Communion day. Normally, we have about 10 events on First Holy Communion day. We had four events this year. So it's better than last year when we had none."
Scranton Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti said the announcement "seems like a dream, right?" She called it "a big relief," but said she fears the announcement will discourage vaccinations.
"The message is still not only do we need to keep wearing masks, but we still need to get the vaccine," Cognetti said. "And as we've seen vaccine uptake drop in the last few weeks, we want to make sure that people are still learning about the vaccine and encouraging their family, friends and neighbors to get it."
All Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older are eligible for vaccines.
So far, 53% of Pennsylvanians 16 and older have received at least one vaccination, according to figures available on state and Philadelphia health departments' websites. Lackawanna County is at 62.9%; Luzerne, 52%; Monroe, 43.6%; Pike, 40.9%; Susquehanna, 36.1%; Wayne, 48.3%; and Wyoming, 49.6%.
Percentages for Pennsylvanians 18 and older could not be determined.
The state Department of Health reported 3,133 more cases Tuesday for a total of 1,161,619, and 58 new deaths, raising the total to 26,334.
The region added 230 new cases and four deaths, increasing the total cases to 74,604 and the death toll to 1,794.
Lackawanna added 44 cases for 17,853 total, including 2,770 probable. Two new deaths raised the total to 460.
Luzerne added 83 cases for 30,610 total, including 2,398 probable, and remained at 794 deaths.
Monroe added 56 cases for 14,094 total, including 418 probable, and remained at 300 deaths.
Pike added 17 cases for 3,794 total, including 388 probable, and remained at 54 deaths.
Susquehanna added 10 cases for 2,479 total, including 300 probable, and remained at 60 deaths.
Wayne added 13 cases for 3,923 total, including 400 probable. One new death raised the total to 78.
Wyoming added seven cases for 1,851 total, including 326 probable. One new death raised the total to 48.
Denise Allabaugh and Steve Mocarsky, staff writers, contributed to this report.
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