AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Gov. Tom Wolf cited rising infection rates in some hot spots when he imposed a new round of restrictions on bars and restaurants two weeks ago.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania bar and restaurant owners said Tuesday they have been unfairly blamed for rising virus case numbers, challenging the Wolf administration to provide evidence and blasting the Democratic governor anew over pandemic restrictions they say will drive many of them out of business.

Wolf cited rising infection rates in some hot spots when he imposed a new round of restrictions on bars and restaurants two weeks ago. Occupancy was reduced from 50% to 25% capacity, and alcohol can only be served with meals.

Riki Tanaka, who owns three restaurants in lightly impacted McKean County, in the rural northwest, told a state House panel it makes no sense and “flat out isn’t fair” to lump eateries in his region with those in virus hot spots like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

He said no restaurant can survive under the limitations imposed by Wolf, noting he had to furlough dozens of workers.

“Give us a fighting chance,” he implored. “Let me operate my business.”

Tanaka and other restaurant owners and industry officials testified at a hearing arranged by House Republicans.

John Longstreet, head of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, a trade group, said there is no proof that limiting restaurants to 25% capacity is more effective at preventing the spread of the virus than 50%. He warned that thousands of establishments are in danger of closing permanently without relief from the state.

The Department of Health has not released statewide statistics to support its contention that bars and restaurants are fueling higher case numbers. But contact tracing data compiled by Allegheny County — the epicenter of Pennsylvania’s rising case numbers in July — yielded evidence that employees and patrons at bars and restaurants helped drive the spread there, state health officials said.

“Limiting places where congregation occurs and masking is impossible (while eating and drinking) is a logical step to prevent further spread,” the health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said in written testimony to the House panel.

As the restaurant and bar industry fights to survive Wolf’s latest round of coronavirus restrictions, indoor dining in Philadelphia will have to wait a little longer.

In a Tuesday news conference, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley cited rising case numbers and predicted the situation will be “worse before it gets better.”

The city pushed the restart of indoor dining to Sept. 1. It had originally said restaurants could offer indoor table service in early July, with social distancing measures and restrictions on seating and occupancy, before postponing that to August.