coronavirus pandemic

Spotted Dining Indoors in Maryland, Philly Mayor Jim Kenney Throws Blame at Feds

Indoor dining in Philadelphia halted on March 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic. City officials plan to resume eating indoors next week with restrictions

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What to Know

  • Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is being criticised for dining indoors at a Maryland restaurant while his city does not allow the practice currently.
  • Kenney has made many overtures about the need to follow coronavirus safety guidelines during the pandemic and even recommended residents avoid activities like going to the beach or going to some indoor gatherings.
  • Responding to the online firestorm, Kenney said he's been following guidance from city health officials when Philly restaurants should reopen and said the feds should have had a better response to the pandemic.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney enjoyed a meal indoors at a Maryland restaurant on Sunday and now he's being skewered by one of Philly's top chefs for that dining decision.

A photo of a maskless Kenney sitting inside a eatery made the rounds on social media websites on Sunday afternoon. It is not clear who took the photo. Limited indoor dining is allowed in Maryland based on the state's current COVID-19 guidelines. Baltimore, however, stopped the practice for some time before resuming again earlier this month.

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney
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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney dines indoors at a Maryland restaurant on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. The mayor's office has not said what town the mayor was visiting. It's not clear who took the photo.

The image sparked fierce criticism from some people and business owners. Writing directly to Kenney in an Instagram post, famed Philadelphia chef and restaurateur Marc Vetri decried the mayor as a hypocrite.

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"I guess all your press briefings and your narrative of unsafe indoor dining don’t apply to you. Thank you for clearing it all up for us tonight," Vetri wrote in part.

A spokesperson for Kenney said his office would not be directly responding to Vetri's comments, but did offer a statement on the mayor's decision.

"The Mayor went to Maryland earlier today to patronize a restaurant owned by a friend of his. For what it’s worth, he also went to Rouge to enjoy outdoor dining in Philly on the way home. He looks forward to expanding indoor dining locally next week," Deana Gamble, a spokesperson for the mayor's office wrote in an email.

"Throughout the pandemic the Mayor has consistently deferred to the guidance of the Health Commissioner, who in this case felt strongly about waiting until Sept. 8 to resume indoor dining. If elected officials at the federal level had similarly deferred to health experts over the past five months, this might not even be an issue by now."

Monday afternoon, Kenney issued a direct apology via two tweets.

"I know some are upset that I dined indoors at a restaurant in Maryland yesterday. I felt the risk was low because the county I visited has had fewer than 800 COVID-19 cases, compared to over 33,000 cases in Philadelphia. Regardless, I understand the frustration," he wrote.

"Restaurant owners are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. I’m sorry if my decision hurt those who’ve worked to keep their businesses going under difficult circumstances. Looking forward to reopening indoor dining soon and visiting my favorite spots."

For months, Kenney and city health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley have pleaded with residents to social distance, adhere to health guidelines and avoid indoor situations where it would be easier to contract and spread COVID-19.

More than 33,000 people are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic was declared and 1,749 have died from the virus, according to an NBC10 collection of the latest available data.

Kenney has made many overtures about the need for citizens to follow the rules so the city could reopen.

Indoor dining was stopped in Philadelphia on March 16 in the city's first pandemic shutdown. Takeout service was allowed. Outdoor dining with social distancing protocols resumed nearly two months later, on June 12.

Still, indoor dining resumption was pushed back twice in the city. Meanwhile, indoor dining is allowed with limited capacity in Pennsylvania's other 66 counties.

When indoor dining resumes on Sept. 8, restaurants can operate at 25% capacity. Additional restrictions include requiring no more than four seats at a table and not serve alcohol without a meal, among others.

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