Farley issues outdoor dining warning

City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley speaks during a coronavirus press conference in March. PHOTO: Metro File
PHOTO: Melissa Mitman

Philadelphia’s top health official threatened to reinstate a ban on outdoor dining if restaurants flout social distancing rules.

Thomas Farley said he received reports and personally saw restaurants that did not properly spread out tables and allowed crowds to gather.

“The virus hasn’t changed,” Farley said Tuesday. “Until we have a vaccine, the only thing protecting us is how we behave.”

Restaurants and bars with existing outdoor seating areas were permitted to begin serving customers Friday. Others have been filing applications with the city to set up tables on sidewalks and in the street along the curb.

Establishments are required to space tables so that people are not within six feet of someone at another table. Staff are also required to wear masks.

Farley said health inspectors will begin visiting more restaurants to enforce the regulations. If business owners don’t heed warnings, the health department can shut them down or fine them $2,000 a day, he added.

So far, the city has not closed any eateries.

Officials urged residents to stay away from non-compliant restaurants and report them to 311.

Philadelphia reported 116 new coronavirus cases and 21 additional fatalities, bringing the city’s toll to 1,495. The spike in deaths was due to data reconciliation efforts, Farley said.

Testing has bounced back after dipping during the height of the civic unrest in early June. Farley said there’s still no evidence that mass protests following the death of George Floyd have led to an uptick in cases.

The health department received about 2,000 test results Tuesday, and less than 6 percent were positive, a new low for the city, Farley said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline. Less than 500 people with the virus are being treated in hospitals in southeastern Pennsylvania, including 276 in Philadelphia.

Farley said nursing homes in the city, which have been hit hard by the pandemic, are reporting an average total of one to two new cases a day.

In other coronavirus-related news, business and political leaders on Monday announced the formation of a task force to focus on the region’s economic recovery.

The effort is being led by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, and the task force’s leadership committee includes Comcast executive David Cohen, University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and Dan Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross, among many others.

Teams will be organized to focus on several areas, including higher education, small and mid-sized businesses and tourism.

“As the state’s economy begins to reopen from the public health emergency, this initiative will be an important collaborative that will help inform our path to economic recovery,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

The task force, which covers Philadelphia and Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties, is being backed by Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council leadership, along with Wolf. It plans to release a set of recommendations this summer.

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