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Philadelphia bans indoor gatherings, broadens coronavirus rules

Philadelphia is banning indoor dining at restaurants and indoor gatherings of any size, public or private, as the city battles a resurgence of the coronavirus.

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Philadelphia is banning indoor gatherings of any size, public or private, as the city battles a resurgence of the coronavirus, officials announced Monday, warning that hospitals will become overrun by the end of the year without dramatic action.

The city also plans to ban indoor dining at restaurants, shutter casinos, gyms, museums and libraries, prohibit in-person instruction at colleges and high schools, and reduce occupancy at stores and religious institutions, the health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, said at a news conference Monday.

The new restrictions take effect Friday and extend at least through the end of the year.

The blanket prohibition on indoor gatherings of any kind — everything from holiday parties and football gatherings to baby showers and brunches — will not be enforced, city officials acknowledged. Farley said the city is seeking voluntary compliance, saying the virus is rampant and “spreading a little bit everywhere,” including at small social gatherings.

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The rate of new confirmed infections is growing about 4% each day, Farley said.

He said the outbreak is “approaching its worst,” and the weeks ahead are “a little grim if we don’t take strong action.”

"If we don't do something to change the trajectory of this epidemic, the hospitals will become full, they’ll have difficulty treating people, and we’ll have between several hundred and more than 1,000 deaths just by the end of this year," he said.

Pennsylvania has shattered daily case records recently. The state is reporting an average of 4,900 new infections per day, up nearly 120% in two weeks, according to AP analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project. The daily death toll has nearly doubled in that period, to about 42 per day, though it remains far below what it was last spring. Hospitalizations and the percentage of virus tests are also up sharply.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a statewide mask mandate, occupancy restrictions at bars and restaurants and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, but has not moved to reimpose broader restrictions seen earlier in the pandemic.

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The Philadelphia school district had planned to start returning K-12 students to the classroom, but said last week that schools will remain virtual for the foreseeable future in light of the explosion in cases.