Philadelphia's health department announced several changes to the city's coronavirus restrictions Friday, potentially allowing fans at outdoor events and creating a path to fans in the stands for the Phillies' home opener.
As of March 1, the city will follow Pennsylvania's limits on events including 2500 people at outdoor sporting events at the largest stadiums. The maximum number of people is 500 at indoor sporting events, a number that includes staff and the players and may not allow for fans.
"Spectators will be allowed up to the state gathering limits...this is one step closer to us returning to normal," Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.
Farley said he still needs to have conversations with the city's professional sports teams.
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"They have proposed to have fans back in the stands. We have allowed that to the extent the state allows it," Farley said. "If there's more discussions to increase that number, they would have to get approval both from [the state] and from us."
A statement from the Wells Fargo Center said fans would only be allowed in once Pennsylvania further lifts restrictions and the city followed suit. The venue is optimistic about fans returning in March.
Dining, theaters, stores, church
Other changes to restrictions will allow for more customers in stores, reopening senior centers, larger parties at outdoor restaurant tables.
Retail stores were previously limited to 10 customers per 1000 square feet. Now, they can allow up to 20 customers per 1000 square feet.
Senior centers can also reopen, but KN95 masks or double masks are required.
Religious services can now have 20% capacity, up from the previous limit of 10%.
Restaurants' capacity for indoor dining will remain at 25%, or 50% with proper ventilation. But outdoor seating can now be for up to 6 people instead of the prior limit of 4 people, and there will no longer be a requirement that diners are from the same household.
And movie theaters can now serve food again, but groups must be no larger than 4 people.
Outdoor catered events are still allowed, with the maximum number of people boosted to 100, previously 50.
Indoor catered events are still prohibited. Farley said catered events are "the events we worry about the most" as they present high risk of spreading the virus, as people tend to mingle while eating and drinking, and thus not wearing masks.
"They interact, they move around, lots of potential exposures, many outbreaks have been associated with these settings," Farley said.
Why ease coronavirus restrictions now?
"Philadelphia's case rates are lower than the state as a whole and it's been lower for awhile. And I'm optimistic about the fact that they're falling and in addition to that, our vaccination rates are rising," Farley said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.