Appeals court allows Pennsylvania to restrict crowd size

People prepare watch the Southern Columbia versus Loyalsock football game Thursday night at Tiger Stadium.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine amended existing COVID-19 orders to allow for adjusted capacity to gathering limits while keeping in place mitigation tools such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

Starting Friday, amended orders will allow for venue occupancy limits to play a bigger role in determining the number of people permitted both inside and outside of events or gatherings.

The commonwealth described an event or gathering as a temporary grouping of individuals for defined purposes that takes place over a limited timeframe, such as hours or days, and groupings that occur within larger, more permanent businesses. Examples of events and gatherings are fairs, festivals, concerts, performances within amusement parks, showings of movies and business meetings.

Conversely, groups of people who share a space within a building in the ordinary course of operations, such as in an office building, classroom, production floor or similar regularly occurring operation of a business or organization, are not events or gatherings.

The orders amend two sections of the July 15 mitigation orders and include a “maximum occupancy calculator” for both indoor and outdoor events. Based on a venue’s established occupancy limit as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code, venues apply the appropriate percent of occupancy to determine how many attendees are permitted to attend an event or gathering.

• An indoor venue with a maximum occupancy up to 2,000 people would be allowed 20% of maximum occupancy; 2,001 to 10,000 to 15%; and over 10,000 to 10% with a maximum of 3,750 people.

• An outdoor venue with a maximum occupancy up to 2,000 people would be allowed 25% of maximum occupancy; 2,001 to 10,000 to 20%; and over 10,000 to 15% with a maximum of 7,500 people.

For example, Kemp Memorial Stadium on the campus of the Shamokin Area School District can hold approximately 6,200 in its bleachers and 7,500 people with standing room only, meaning the district would now be permitted to allow 20% of either 6,200 (1,240) or 7,500 (1,500) inside the venue, if it chooses to do so.

Athletic Director Rick Kashner said the district allowed about 1,000 inside Kemp Memorial Stadium during last Friday’s homecoming game and will most likely keep the number stagnant for Friday’s home game against Central Mountain since the district’s attendance limit and the new state attendance limit are relatively close.

Levine said in her amended order that venues must require attendees to comply with 6-foot social distancing requirements, to wear masks or face coverings and to implement best practices such as timed entry, multiple entry and exit points, multiple restrooms and hygiene stations.

“Pennsylvanians must continue to social distance and wear masks as we prepare to fight the virus through the fall and winter,” Wolf was quoted in a news release. “Regardless of the size of an event or gathering, those things are still imperative to stopping the spread of COVID. We know everyone has sacrificed in many ways and today’s announcement reflects a gradual adjustment to our lives as we learn how we can do things safely until we have a cure, or an effective vaccine is widely available.”

Levine said the Department of Health will monitor cases and outbreaks, and if a case investigation and contact tracing efforts determine that events or gatherings are the source of an outbreak, the department “can and will dial back these new limits.”

Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus Spokesperson Jason Gottesman welcomed the flexibility to the gathering limitation while also criticizing the statewide mandate, remarking that it was drafted at random and does not take into account data, the local impacts of the virus and the geographical differences of Pennsylvania.

“Over the last several weeks, Pennsylvanians have been safely attending school sporting events, seasonal events and family gatherings, and students have been safely returning to in-person education without major COVID-19 outbreaks,” Gottesman said. “Pennsylvanians have proven they can live their lives safely during this pandemic without Gov. Wolf’s mandates.”

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