Pennsylvania governor’s coronavirus indoor dining ban challenged by coalition of bars, restaurants

A group of Pennsylvania bars and restaurants is taking legal action against Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine over new coronavirus rules that will prohibit indoor dining during the holiday season.

Co-counsels for the group filed a pair of court documents Friday, Troy Freedman, a lawyer for the businesses, told Fox News.

One was a petition for review, a required first step when filing suit against state officials under Pennsylvania law, Freedman said. The other is seeking an injunction that would enjoin the governor from enforcing his order, which he issued last week. It went into effect on Dec. 12. Wolf tested positive for the virus on Dec. 8.

FILE - In this Sept 11, 2018, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf attends the September 11th Flight 93 Memorial Service in Shanksville, Pa. Gov. Wolf said Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

FILE – In this Sept 11, 2018, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf attends the September 11th Flight 93 Memorial Service in Shanksville, Pa. Gov. Wolf said Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, that he has tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

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“We’ve followed all the rules, we’ve paid attention to everything, we’ve done everything you’ve mandated,” the owner of BlackJax American Pub & Grill, one of the venues involved in the lawsuit said in a statement. “Now, I know a bunch of people who have had COVID – but not one person has gotten it in, or from, my restaurant.”

Attorneys plan to argue that the prohibition on indoor dining violates the equal protection clauses in the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

“It treats bars and restaurants differently than other types of businesses, retail businesses, Walmarts, Targets, small mom-and-pop stores, which are allowed to continue to remain open and serve their patrons,” Freedman said. “But you don’t allow the same liberty to small restaurants and bars.”

Not even if they follow stringent sanitation practices and other health guidelines.

Similar lawsuits against indoor dining shutdowns recently prevailed in other states, including California, where Freedman said they were “somewhat analogous” to the Pennsylvania case with governors accused of overreach.

The California decision was subsequently overturned on appeal late Friday, according to Fox 5 San Diego.

But Wolf’s order, which claimed a high rate of infection in indoor dining settings, may not be supported by evidence, critics say.

A recent contact-tracing study in nearby New York found that less than 1.5% of new coronavirus cases were linked to bars and restaurants.

Freedman said Pennsylvania’s health department has not backed up the claim, either.

The state’s COVID-19 data page does not appear to have a breakdown of business types and new cases. It did link to a Yale study that found mask mandates were about as effective in lowering COVID fatalities as “more disruptive measures” like stay-home orders and restaurant shutdowns.

“It’s possible they’re relying on some national data of some sort, but to be quite honest with you, I haven’t found anything,” Freedman said. “And there’s nothing on the Department of Health webpage that shows me national data as it applies to restaurants and bars.”

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In September, a federal judge ruled that some of Wolf’s earlier coronavirus shutdown restrictions were unconstitutional after a lawsuit on behalf of a group of small business owners from hair salons, drive-in movie grounds, and others.

As it stands, a lot of people who depend on indoor dining for a living could be out of work for the holidays.

Fox News Charlie Creitz contributed to this report.