HARRISBURG — About 500 people protested outside the state Capitol today, angered by Gov. Tom Wolf's decision last week to close bars that don’t sell food and limit restaurant indoor service in a bid to slow a resurgence of coronavirus.
The state’s revised plan restricts restaurants to serving 25 percent of their normal occupancy. The state’s earlier reopening plan had allowed eateries to serve up to 50% of their normal occupancy.
The state’s move to restrict the rights of healthy people outraged Marcus Riddell, of Tower City, the founder of We the People of PA, a citizens group that has called for Wolf’s impeachment over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Riddell said state law empowers the state to quarantine sick people, but the state’s been misusing the law to limit the movements and rights of people who have not contracted coronavirus.
Wolf’s move to restrict businesses statewide is an over-reach, he said.
“Where is the surge? There is no surge,” Riddell said. “It’s a political move to see how much the people will take.”
Legislative critics at the protest said that the state’s response is unfair, particularly to restaurants in areas that haven’t been hit hard by coronavirus.
“He’s limiting them to 25% of their business, he might as well close them down,” state Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County said.
State Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair County, said the governor’s move to close bars and limit indoor dining statewide was “reactionary.”
He said the governor should have been more open in communicating with the public and lawmakers before announcing the new restrictions.
Wolf’s approach to dealing with the crisis has fueled the anger that’s prompted protests like the one today, he said.
“They are tired of not being heard,” Gregory said.
Wolf's moves to try to slow the spread of coronavirus have prompted multiple protests like the one held today. A protest in May, as many counties in the state were still under tight restrictions, attracted about 2,000 people, according to estimates from Capitol Police.
There were about 500 people at the protest today, Capitol Police reported. Few of the protesters wore face masks.
The Wolf administration put the restriction in place statewide, even though the bulk of the increase in cases in the state has come in southwestern and southeastern Pennsylvania.
“Closing places in Blair County makes very little sense,” Gregory said.
Wolf has said that the state has moved to restrict crowds in bars and restaurants because public health officials have pinpointed those types of gatherings as being hot spots for outbreaks of coronavirus. While the state’s uptick in cases has been more severe in the areas around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, counties across the state have seen increased numbers of people testing positive for coronavirus in July, he said.