Pennsylvania’s Wolf Vetoes Bill Giving Restaurants Option to Operate at Full Capacity

October 19, 2020 Updated: October 19, 2020

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on Oct. 16 vetoed a bill that would have allowed restaurant owners to decide whether to open to full capacity, saying that the measure “jeopardizes public health and safety” amid the state’s rising number of CCP virus cases.

HB 2513 was passed by Pennsylvania’s Republican-led House on Sept. 23 and would have given restaurant, bar, and club owners the discretion to operate at full capacity. Indoor capacity at bars and restaurants statewide is currently at 50 percent, with the aim to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

It would have also removed the requirement that a meal must be purchased to buy an alcoholic beverage.

In a letter (pdf) to lawmakers on Oct. 16, Wolf cited the growing number of positive cases in the state, saying that the bill “increases the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Oct. 17 saw the state’s second-highest daily rise in COVID-19 cases—1,857—since the outbreak first began. It came just days after officials said the commonwealth is seeing what they believe is the start of a “fall resurgence” of the CCP virus.

“These federal and state mitigation guidelines were established to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 because of the severity of this pandemic. These guidelines not only protect customers, they also protect employees and the community,” Wolf wrote.

“To the extent that there is a resurgence of the virus this fall and winter, we need these critical mitigation guidelines to remain in place, and we need to retain the ability to implement further mitigation measures if necessary.”

Wolf said the risk of spreading the virus in restaurant settings is “unique” due to how long people spend interacting in close proximity, and because “prevention practices” such as mask-wearing isn’t possible while eating or drinking.

He added that the state should instead focus on getting children back to school, keeping schools and businesses open, and “taking precautions to keep our communities healthy.”

The bill now goes back to the legislature, and would require a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

As of Oct. 19, Pennsylvania has recorded 8,500 COVID-19-related deaths and a total of 176,054 confirmed cases.

Pennsylvania COVID-19 deaths
Number of COVID-19-related deaths by the day in Pennsylvania through Oct. 17, 2020. (Vital Records Program/Pennsylvania Department of Health)
Pennsylvania cases
Number of COVID-19 cases by the day in Pennsylvania up to Oct. 17, 2020. (Pennsylvania National Electronic Disease Surveillance System/Pennsylvania Department of Health)

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said last week that the state is far more prepared for an influx of COVID-19 cases that it was at the start of the outbreak, citing more personal protective equipment supplies, a contact tracing program, and sufficient hospital beds.