Thanksgiving-eve has long been known as one of the biggest party nights of the year. But this year, the alcohol will run dry at bars and restaurants from 5 pm Wednesday to 8 am Thanksgiving morning.
With COVID-19 cases aggressively climbing across the region, state leaders said new targeted coronavirus mitigation efforts, that include a restriction on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants Wednesday night at 5 pm, are meant to avoid another red, yellow, green-phased shutdown.
"It was kind of like that expression 'hit you while you're already down' kind of thing," said Allison Witherow, co-owner of The Cantina York & Aviano's Corner Trattoria. "It felt like a punch in the gut because we need every ounce of business that we can get."
The owner of Collusion Tap Works in York, meantime, said he understands the restrictions and the need to keep people safe during COVID-19. However, he does take issue with the fact that restaurants and bars seem to be bearing the brunt of the mitigation efforts.
"I think the worst for me is not necessarily the announcements, because we can kind of all roll with the punches, but what feels like to me, like the restrictions being unnecessarily directed towards bars and restaurants that are already some of the most sanitary places to go to, and the lack of restrictions everywhere else," said owner Jared Barnes, later adding "this should have been a statewide mandate as opposed to individual bars and restaurants or the service industry in general."
Witherow admits she and other business owners were expecting some sort of restriction in light of the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases across the state and nation. However, she said the 'worst' part of the restriction is the late notice restaurant and bar owners received as the restriction was only announced on Tuesday.
"We had an event planned. It was a Thanksgiving-eve party," she said, complete with staff, a DJ, and COVID-19 precautions at The Cantina. She also said extra food and alcohol was ordered for the event with no way to recover the cost. The Cantina now plans to cancel its planned party and close its doors on Wednesday.
"You can't really send that stuff back. So, it's just kind of really eating that expense again," she said.
Barnes said his business will stay open with earlier hours on Wednesday, aided by the fact that it is a brewery.
"Luckily for us it was pretty easy enough to adapt just because of the nature of our business with the brewery doing 'to go' beer, 'to go' cans, and 'to go' food. All we had to do was just adjust our hours for the day," said Barnes.
Witherow added for restaurants like The Cantina that have large porches, the winter can be their slow time and Thanksgiving Eve was seen as an opportunity to bring in sales. She encouraged everyone to support local restaurant owners by ordering take out and buying gift cards.
"You can still support them within the comfort level of your concerns about the virus," she said.
Meantime, Barnes added local businesses need everyone's support now more than ever.
"Come and see all the local businesses. Come and see all the small businesses. Don't just run to Walmart and grab everything you need just because it's convenient. These are your neighbors. These are your friends. These are your family that own these businesses," said Barnes.
Pennsylvania's Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, has also issued a statewide stay-at-home advisory—which is not mandatory—and discouraged large Thanksgiving gatherings.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects that if no further measures are taken, Pennsylvania will have more than 22,500 new coronavirus cases per day by early December and run out of ICU beds by Nov. 30. In the past week, the number of COVID-19-attributable deaths has quadrupled, and the average daily case count is seven times higher than it was two months ago, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“Transmission of COVID-19 is reaching new heights that we have not yet encountered,” Sec. Levine said. “It has to be our collective responsibility to protect our communities, our health care workers, and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians from COVID-19.”
“If we all do this together, we're going to defeat this virus,” Gov. Wolf said. “That's what we should be focused on, not whether we want to get transitory benefit of going out with friends the day after tomorrow and getting drinks.”
Businesses will also have liability protection for enforcing the current mask mandate for all public places where distancing isn’t possible.
“I want to do everything I can to keep from trashing our economy the way we did back in March and April and at the same time keep people safe,” Gov. Wolf said.