The change also comes while Allegheny County continues to have new daily case numbers in the triple digits. Case numbers for July 17 included 240 cases and 17 hospitalizations. When Allegheny County moved into green phase of the governor's COVID-19 plan on June 5, indoor dining was open at 50% capacity. The four weeks before county officials announced indoor dining closures have been tied to the sharp increase in coronavirus cases Allegheny County has seen.
With the new county changes, indoor and outdoor dining are both allowed until 11 p.m., smoking and vaping are banned at indoor and outdoor establishments, and indoor events are limited to 25 people while outdoor events are limited to 50. Allegheny County outdoor event restrictions are stricter than Wolf's order, which caps outdoor events at more than 250 people. The previous Allegheny County order that instituted a three-drink maximum at restaurants in the county has been lifted.
Per the state order, bars or establishments that don't serve food are not allowed to serve alcohol for onsite consumption. Onsite alcohol consumption must be served with food.
Contact tracing from the Allegheny County Health Department has shown that many cases during the recent spike came from people spending time at bars and restaurants, as well as from people traveling in and out of the state. Just before the county shut down bars and indoor dining at the end of June, several local establishments had to close after one or several employees tested positive for COVID-19.
Pittsburgh City Paper asked county officials if there was data showing that returning to indoor dinning doesn't correlate with increase in positive COVID-19 cases. County spokesperson Amie Downs says that public health was the driving factor in the health department's decision to modify the restaurant order.
"[The health department] felt the 25% occupancy restriction in the state’s orders created a situation that would avoid crowded restaurants and allow for proper space between tables and patrons," says Downs. "Additional requirements in the state’s order requiring patrons to be seated, prohibiting bar seating and requiring food to be ordered with alcohol fit with ACHD’s past approaches of limiting scenarios where groups of people gather and physical distancing and mask wearing is difficult to enforce."
Downs says that the county believes indoor dining can be done safely if people follow the orders from the state and county, wear masks, keep distance between one another, and take other COVID precautions.
CP also asked if county officials felt any pressure to loosen the indoor-dining ban because the federal government has yet to announce another round of coronavirus stimulus package for struggling restaurants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to unveil a new stimulus proposal next week, but it's unclear if specific funding for restaurants will be included.
Downs didn't directly address the lack of federal funding, but did says that the county's decision also sought to align its public health measures with the rest of the region and state, as a way to discourage people traveling often across county lines.
"[Heath director Dr. Debra Bogen] has asked that people limit their trips out and stay home when possible," says Downs.
On July, after the county shut down alcohol consumption at bars and restaurants, dozens of bar owners and workers protested in Downtown Pittsburgh against the closures. The organizer of that protest did not attend because an employee at his restaurant tested positive for the virus.