HARRISBURG — New crowd-size limits announced by the state on Tuesday will tie attendance to both indoor and outdoor events to the occupancy limits of each venue.
Under the new guidelines, which take effect on Friday, indoor venues will be able to hold events limited to 10-20 percent of the normal occupancy limit at the site, while outdoor events can host crowds up to 15-25 percent the normal occupancy of the facility.
The new regulations cap indoor events at 3,750 people for the largest events and at 7,500 people for the largest outdoor events.
Due to the move, fans will be allowed at the game in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The decision won’t immediately impact Penn State games because the Big Ten has banned fans.
“Pennsylvanians must continue to social distance and wear masks as we prepare to fight the virus through the fall and winter,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “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.”
The moves come after intense pressure from the public and state lawmakers who’d been pressing Wolf to relax the limits of 25 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.
“While I am happy that more families will be able to unite to watch their loved ones engaged in school sports and activities, I am frustrated by Gov. Wolf’s nonsensical actions,” said state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland County, who’d led efforts to get the state to allow local school districts to set their own limits on crowd sizes at school sporting events. “Fall sports have been ongoing for several weeks and had the Administration been more responsive, this could have and should have been addressed in August,” Reese said.
The General Assembly passed but Wolf vetoed legislation that would have allowed school districts to determine how many people could attend school sporting events. A veto override attempt failed.
While that legislation dealt specifically with school sports, the new guidance sets limits for all gatherings, including festivals, fairs and concerts.
Separately, the crowd size limits were temporarily put on hold after a federal judge ruled that there were unconstitutional. The Wolf Administration appealed that decision and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Wolf’s orders pending the appeal.
Republican lawmakers welcomed the move but criticized the governor for making the change only after he’d been sued and he’d vetoed legislation that would have had a similar result.
“We maintain that these decisions should be entrusted to schools and communities who are best positioned to protect their students and neighbors,” Senate Republican leaders said in a statement. “During these challenging times Pennsylvanians need clarity and local decision-making power – not more confusion and ever-changing mandates dictated by the Governor’s Office,” they added.
Under the new guidelines, the limits are now:
Venues with an occupancy limit of 2,000 or fewer, can allow 20 percent, meaning a maximum of 400 people, depending on the size of the facility;
Venues with an occupancy between 2,001 and 10,000 can allow 15 percent, meaning a maximum of 1,500 depending on the size of the facility;
Venues with more than 10,000 occupancy can allow 10 percent occupancy, with a maximum of 3,750 people.
Venues with an occupancy of 2,000 people or fewer can allow 25 percent occupancy, meaning a maximum of 500 people, depending on the size of the facility;
Venues with an occupancy of 2,001 to 10,000 people can allow 20 percent occupancy, meaning a maximum of 2,000 people, depending on the size of the facility;
Venues with an occupancy over 10,000 can allow 15 percent occupancy, capped at 7,500 people.
“We will closely monitor cases and outbreaks and if our case investigation and contact tracing efforts determine that events or gatherings are the source of an outbreak, we can and will dial back these new limits,” Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Public health and safety are our first concern and will always remain as such.”
Others criticized the administration’s move to set a sliding scale linking the occupancy limit to the size of the venue. This creates confusing situations when venues are near the thresholds set by the state, said state Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County.
The Department of Health in a frequently asked questions listing accompanying the guidance indicates that facilities can choose to reduce their occupancy to qualify under
U.S. District Judge William Stickman, in calling the state’s limits unconstitutional, had questioned the state’s methodology in setting the limits based on specific numbers rather than based on a percentage of the venue’s occupancy.
“Nobody explained why hundreds may gather indoors to shop (the larger the facility, the more people permitted), dozens may dine in a restaurant (again, the larger the restaurants, the more will be permitted), but no more than 25 may attend an indoor lecture, a speech or wedding,” Stickman wrote.”They did not demonstrate why their limits on some activities by occupancy is reasonably safe but will impose irreparable harm and imminent danger for other activities,” he said.
In legal documents filed with the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Stickman’s ruling “ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus” that limits on crowd sizes are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.