HARRISBURG, Pa. - New coronavirus restrictions are now in effect in Pennsylvania, including a three-week ban on indoor dining and further limitations to indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The sweeping new order went into effect at midnight Saturday as the state continues to grapple with an explosion of new cases and rising hospitalizations. Gov. Tom Wolf says the restrictions are tentatively slated to expire on Jan. 4.
Gyms and fitness centers have been shuttered through the new year. Outdoor workout facilities can continue to operate, but people must wear face coverings and maintain social distance.
The temporary ban on youth sports includes K-12 public schools, private schools and sports at the club, travel, recreational and intramural levels. Wolf said professional and collegiate sports may continue without spectators.
Indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited under the new order. Outdoor crowds can include up to 50 people.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other houses of worship were excluded from the indoor gathering limits, but state officials “strongly encouraged” them to avoid congregating inside. Faith leaders should ”carefully weigh the health risks to their congregants given the immense amount of community spread of COVID-19," the state's advisory said.
“We all hoped it would not come to this,” Wolf said at a Thursday news conference. “The current state of the surge in Pennsylvania, though, will not allow us to wait. We need to slow the spread right now in order to save lives. If we don’t, we’re going to be in big trouble.”
Wolf, who tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, announced on Friday that he has twice tested negative for coronavirus. The negative tests on Wednesday and Thursday lead state health officials to believe the PCR test caught Wolf's infection at the end of its cycle.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania reported more than 11,000 new positive tests on Saturday and added 200 virus-related deaths. The state is now averaging 10,000 new confirmed cases a day and has a record number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital.
Some hospitals are running out of intensive-care unit beds, and more than a third of hospitals in a broad swath of southern Pennsylvania anticipate staffing shortages over the next week, according to the state Department of Health.
Health system executives and front-line medical workers alike said Thursday that the COVID situation was increasingly dire and required the state to act.
“As soon as a bed opens, it’s filled again,” Mitchell Davis, a Pittsburgh nurse, said in a statement distributed by the state’s largest union of health care workers. “We need support from the community, support from the government, and support from our employers to be able to fight this and win.”
The FDA on Friday night put its final stamp of approval on the highly anticipated Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Pennsylvania has been preparing to roll out the life-saving vaccine once it was approved. First in line, according to state officials, will be healthcare workers and high-risk elderly populations.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.