COVID restrictions ease in Pennsylvania

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EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — It’s been a tough year of unprecedented shutdowns and restrictions for the hospitality industry.

But Sunday, restaurants and bars have huge service limitations lifted as part of looser guidelines in Pennsylvania. Eyewitness News spoke with some local bar owners about the change.

As of 11 p.m. Sunday, some bars were still open. That’s something we haven’t seen in a very long time. It’s the closest to normal bars and restaurants have been in about a year.

On March 15 Governor Tom Wolf announced some of the restrictions, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in bars and restaurants, would be lifted Sunday. A huge step for the local service industry.

“It’s been eight months since you could sit at a bar. This is a huge day for us,” The V-Spot owner Vinnie Archer said.

A resurrection of the local bar industry. Effective Easter Sunday, Governor Wolf eased restrictions on bars and restaurants. Bar owners in Scranton say the biggest changes are bringing back bar service and removing the 11 p.m. Curfew on alcohol sales.

“We can serve over the bar, where before we had to leave the bar to serve our patrons. You also can sit at the bar. Your barstool can be at the bar,” Archer said.

Backyard Ale House bar manager, Thaz Whelan says lifting the curfew is a game changer, because bars make most of their money between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“That’s when we’re actually going to do the service and the amount of money that we need to maintain what we’re doing. When that was taken away, it was literally like hamstringing us on top of the 50 percent so we’re looking forward to it. I can’t wait,” Whelan said.

Bars and restaurants can now serve alcohol without the purchase of food and indoor capacity is expanded to 75 percent. After scraping by through the pandemic, Whelan says the changes are a saving grace.

“We’ve been running in the red for a long while. This gives us hope to start making money again in the bar, being able to survive and being able to tell people to come on in and have a good time,” Whelan said.

With more Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated, and COVID cases, hospitalizations and the percent positivity rate declining, Governor Wolf believes it was time to loosen the reigns on the service industry.

John Casper of Scranton says there’s still reason to be cautious and responsible but he thinks people are ready to socialize again.

“I think that a lot of people will be really welcoming of being able to go back and see friends. We all came independently and then just kind of sat in the same table together because that’s what we would do normally. It feels a little bit closer to normal,” Casper said.

Even though indoor capacity is increased, customers still have to be six feet apart. Masks are still required.

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