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Bar and restaurant owners were dealt another bad hand this week when they were told to suspend all on-site sales of alcohol at 5 p.m. on the biggest drinking night of the year.

The announcement came Monday afternoon from Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who apparently thinks having a beer or a glass of wine at a restaurant with dinner (on Thanksgiving Eve only) might give you COVID.

The one-night suspension of alcohol sales was implemented Wednesday at 5 p.m. in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. Cases of COVID are up across the city. The sale of to-go drinks was allowed at bars and restaurants and people could stay after 5 p.m., but if they did, they had to stick to non-alcoholic beverages. I don’t know about you, but a little buzz helps me forget how cold I am sitting outside in late November.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Levine passed this order down to address the typically larger crowds that like to gather the night before Thanksgiving, but I fail to see how it differed from the mandates that are already in place. No more than four can be at a table and nobody can be inside. Not only was there little incentive for Philadelphians to go out in the first place, but they don’t have many options anyway.

“Common sense tells you that this will just push people into less safe environments.”

– John Longstreet

John Longstreet, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, said: “Common sense tells you that this will just push people into less safe environments.”

From what he’s seen, public spaces that are enforcing and actively practicing social distancing, mask wearing, sanitation and contact tracing are the safer option.

“They’ve actually exacerbated the problems by pushing these private parties out of restaurants and dining rooms, hotel banquet rooms, catering halls, and where they were doing all the CDC protocols into places where they’re doing none of the protocols – like backyards and other unlicensed venues,” Longstreet said.

In recent weeks, Philly Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley has said the COVID transmission is coming from all sorts of places: “within households,” “at brunch” [at] “parties amongst college students,” “weddings, funerals and baby showers,” “restaurants,” “offices,” “carpools,” “social gatherings,” and “a little bit of everywhere,” because “people don’t know where they got it from.”

Sounds like he covered all the bases.  

“This is a big story,” said Ben Fileccia, director of operations & strategy for the PRLA.

“I talked about it on Fox News with Neil Cavuto last week. That’s how [expletive]-up 2020 is. I’m so left-leaning, I sometimes fall out of my chair, but here I am talking on Fox News.

“It’s going to take us years to get over this stigma of restaurants being an unsafe place when there’s no data out there that says we are.”

– Ben Fileccia

“It’s going to take us years to get over this stigma of restaurants being an unsafe place when there’s no data out there that says we are.”

Last week, WHYY reported there has been a recent rash of drug overdoses in the city caused by people accidentally snorting fentanyl thinking what they were doing was cocaine. Since Nov. 12, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office had confirmed three people had died by overdose and had worked at area restaurants and bars. The city has been trying to get fentanyl test strips into the hands of workers in the service industry to warn them about doing fentanyl-laced cocaine, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. Businesses now have curtailed hours of operation, fewer people on staff, while some have shuttered altogether.

And let’s not forget the $1.3 billion in coronavirus cash promised to bar and restaurant owners packaged in the form of the CARES Act that was used to fill a gap in the state budget rather than for its intended purpose. The bipartisan move to divert those funds to balance the state budget instead of offering relief to restaurants signals to people like Fileccia and Longstreet that policymakers don’t care about distressed, small businesses and can’t relate to their turmoil.

We keep hearing that government officials are counting on us to do the right thing, but their definition of “right” is so subjective. While I’m hopeful all of our small businesses will weather the storm, it still seems like a lot of them are being left out in the cold.

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