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Challenge to indoor dining ban rejected

HARRISBURG — A federal judge in Pennsylvania has rejected a bid to block one of Gov. Tom Wolf’s latest orders to try to stem the spread of the coronavirus, a three-week shutdown of indoor dining at restaurants through Jan. 4, as Wolf went to court to sue restaurants defying the order.

The action in court came Wednesday, as a growing number of restaurants defy Wolf’s shutdown order, and being cited or ordered closed for it.

The state Department of Agriculture ordered 40 restaurants to close last week for violating pandemic-related orders, while Wolf’s Department of Health sued 22 in the statewide Commonwealth Court that had defied orders to close indoor dining and maintain social-distancing protocols.

The lawsuit asks for an immediate order to shut down in-person dining, as well as damages.

“Most businesses are abiding by the orders in place to protect Pennsylvanians against the surge of COVID-19 cases across the state,” Wolf said in a statement. But the 22 restaurants in question “repeatedly violated orders, ignoring the need to protect the health of their workers, customers and community.”

Wolf, meanwhile, is asking state lawmakers to approve $145 million in grants for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and bars in particular.

Melissa Bova, the vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said that her organization is urging its restaurant and bar members to comply with the orders, but that “whether it’s right or wrong, when you are in survival mode, they are going to do what they need to survive.”

The daily totals of new reported infections in Pennsylvania have leveled in the past couple weeks, although hospitalizations continue to climb and the Department of Health on Thursday reported one of the state’s highest daily totals for coronavirus-related deaths at 276.

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