HARRISBURG -- State food safety inspectors from the Department of Agriculture will begin issuing citations and warnings for violations of the Department of Health’s social-distancing requirements for restaurants.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced the move Monday, saying that it is intended to reinforce that his orders restricting dining in restaurants are enforceable
Wolf has insisted repeatedly that the state is depending on voluntary compliance for mitigation efforts intended to slow the spread of coronavirus to work.
“We need to be guided by self-interest, not enforcement,” Wolf said.
Under a new memorandum of understanding between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health, inspectors who normally focus on food safety in restaurants will now also begin considering whether restaurants are following the social-distancing requirements set out by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said.
Food safety inspectors will monitor whether there are signs advising customers to wear masks, whether customers and employees are wearing masks and whether dining tables are far enough apart, Redding said.
“Think of it this way, we are taking the authority of the Secretary of Health and placing that with our inspectors in the field,” Redding said. “This team approach will ensure that both the food and those who serve it are safe.”
The move to increase enforcement by restaurant inspectors comes three weeks after Wolf announced that bars that don't serve food must close and restaurants are limited to serving only 25% of their normal capacity.
The state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, has already been enforcing the Department of Health’s rules for bars, according to information provided by the state police on Monday.
Over the weekend, the state police inspectors visited 1,262 bars and restaurants with liquor licenses, handing out 52 warnings and three citations -- at two locations in the Wilkes-Barre area and one in the Altoona region.
“The state police will continue working collaboratively with the Department of Health and local police departments to remain at the forefront of law enforcement pandemic response efforts,” said state police Lt. Col. Scott Price. “We are grateful to the majority of Pennsylvanians who have stepped up to follow mitigation requirements.”
Wolf said that while the state is stressing that enforcement can be used to compel people to comply with the law, he thinks that most Pennsylvanians support the state’s efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.
He pointed to a poll released July 30 by Franklin and Marshall College which found that 64 percent of likely voters said they think it’s “extremely important” to wear a mask when leaving home.
“We need to come together, unified, against COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said. “I’m calling upon every Pennsylvanian to do their part to help us get as close as we can to 100 percent compliance on masking.”