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Businesses ready for relief

The Wolf administration’s announcement Tuesday that coronavirus “mitigations” — except for masking — will end Memorial Day prompted satisfaction and optimism, as well as surprise and a bit of caution from local stakeholders.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Mike Luciano, owner of Mike’s Court, who has been seeing more customers lately, especially older ones who’ve been vaccinated and are feeling a new confidence.

“People are ready to socialize,” Luciano said. “They feel a little freer.”

“Any step toward life before the pandemic is a good thing,” said Matt Stuckey, president of Stuckey Automotive, speaking not so much on behalf of his own business, which COVID-19 restrictions haven’t impinged upon too badly since the summer, but for others they’ve damaged severely. He was driving past Peoples Natural Gas Field as he spoke. “I think that stadium will be full soon,” he said.

The lifting of restrictions “should be very helpful,” said Jean DeVentura, co-owner of 4D’s Lounge and Pleasant Valley Recreation Center.

It will be especially so with the nice weather, which will allow bar patrons to use the outdoor patio, she said. It will help the bowling alley, which tends to be slow in summer, she added.

The plan for lifting restrictions surprised Mark Taylor, director of public safety for Blair County.

“(But) I think everybody was getting to the point where they’re ready,” he said.

The mitigation efforts seem to have served their purpose, Taylor said.

Local case numbers and hospitalizations have been “fairly stable” lately, which is encouraging — although, when the mitigations go away, it could lead to increased infection numbers, so “we’re going to have to keep monitoring it,” Taylor said.

Actually, the lifting of mitigations is “a little mind-boggling,” said Joe Hurd, CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, who has been fielding grievances for more than a year from businesses that have lost revenues due to those restrictions.

“The barn door (will soon be) open, I guess,” Hurd said. “If that in fact is the case, I’m delighted.”

He doesn’t necessarily want to be “skeptical,” he said. But he hadn’t expected the mitigations to go away all at once, especially indoor capacity limits, he said.

He wonders whether there may be a “clarification” coming that qualifies Tuesday’s message, he said.

An emailed request to the state Department of Health from the Mirror for confirmation or clarification Tuesday afternoon wasn’t answered right away.

If the restrictions will be gone soon, it will be time for “healing,” Hurd said.

But the transition to normal is unlikely to be instantaneous for many, because there’s been “so much psychological damage,” he said.

The damage has been “some of the worst in industry history,” wrote Chuck Moran, executive director for the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, in a published statement.

Taverns and licensed restaurants are more than ready for relief, according to Moran.

“The time has come in which we can move into a full recovery mode,” he stated. “It’s time to make the comeback better than the setback.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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