Governor’s office responds to request for data on limiting the operation of restaurants and bars

On Sunday, we published an opinion piece that argued that bar and restaurant owners deserved to see the data that Governor Wolf used in his recent order to reduce indoor occupancy of bars and restaurants to 25% and require customers to purchase a meal with on-premise alcohol consumption.

Our piece was written in support of a reporter form CBS21 who was told by the governor that he would receive the data and then was denied.

On Monday, we emailed the governor’s press office and requested the same data. Below is the response we received back from Nate Wardle, press secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Both state and federal public health agencies have recognized the closure of restaurants and bars as an effective mitigation effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A recent HHS Regional report for the region Pennsylvania is in recommended that Pennsylvania “temporarily close bars, limit indoor dining and require the usage of cloth masks” as mitigation efforts.

Current CDC guidance also supports this measure, considering “food service limited to drive-through, delivery, take-out and curb side pick-up as the lowest risk option for restaurants and bar settings, while indoor and outdoor seating options are identified as higher/highest risk options.

This guidance closely mirrors the mitigation efforts the Wolf Administration put in place on July 15.

For an approximate two-week period from June 24 through July 9, there were 758 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The demographics of cases in these four counties changed substantially toward more younger age groups. In each of these counties, in June and July, over 50 percent of cases occurred in individuals ages 19-49, an indicator of community spread as opposed to spread in congregate care facilities such as nursing homes where cases are declining. In April and May, most of the cases were in individuals 50 years of age and older.

As the Wolf Administration has assessed the data surrounding the increase in cases, particularly in the southwestern part of the state where there has been the greatest spike in cases and among the longest period of time in the Green phase, we have seen a notable increase in the cases among younger demographics through our contact tracing efforts.

In our case investigation findings, we have found that, for example, one bar was a shared point of potential exposure for customers and employees in at least four different counties. Another example is of a bar that was visited by 27 cases in one county, and cases then also spread to a nearby county, confirming a need for more than county-by-county mitigation, but rather a focus on statewide efforts because people are free to travel and because modeling strongly suggests case increases will spread from the southwest to the north and east of the state and country. Department of Health case investigators have noted hundreds of cases where people indicated they had visited a bar or restaurant. In addition, case investigator reporting now includes a specific selection to record restaurant and bar visitation in lieu of it being recorded in case notes.

The number of people getting COVID-19 from isolated, identifiable outbreaks, such as those in long term care facilities, is decreasing, and more people are contracting COVID-19 from being out and about in their community, such as when visiting restaurants and bars. In counties where we have seen significant increases in case counts recently, such as the southwest, the proportion of known exposures, or people knowing where they contracted the virus from, was significantly lower at 25-40 percent, indicating more cases where the individual did not know how they were exposed.

Bars, restaurants, nightclubs and out-of-state travel all were indicated as risk factors in growing numbers of cases, leading to the mitigation efforts announced last week and the travel advisory criteria.

Let us know what you think in the comments.