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Easing capacity restrictions brings relief to businesses

Sue and Lou Holzer and Theresa and Dave Miller (clockwise from left), all of Carrolltown, talk as they wait for their for lunches at Jethro’s restaurant in Altoona on Monday afternoon. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Sunday’s step toward the unwinding of COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants, bars and gyms was hardly the kind of decisive event Christianity celebrates every year on Easter, but it moved such businesses closer to eventual resurrection from their long pandemic ordeal.

Among other changes, facilities could move from 50% to 75% of rated occupancy, and patrons could once again sit at a bar.

Jethro’s wasn’t open on Sunday, but there was “way more businesses this Monday than last Monday,” said Manager Georgette Clark, explaining that the easing of restrictions may have contributed to that welcome development, along with the nice weather, the increasing pace of vaccinations and “tons of (other) things.”

Zach’s Sports & Spirits was open Sunday, but next weekend should provide the first major payoff from the newly relaxed restrictions, according to Jared Alwine, one of the bar managers. That will be the real “welcome back” — when patrons, especially bar regulars — can fully enjoy the accommodations again, he said.

It’s likely to be the biggest weekend for Zach’s since the short period last June and July, after restaurants could reopen, but before the state closed bar seating, he said.

It may become the biggest weekend since before the pandemic began, Alwine said.

“We’re definitely excited for this,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Maybe by mid- to late summer things will be all the way back to normal, Alwine said.

Yet the new change in allowable percentage of capacity doesn’t always make a practical difference, due to facility size.

Even at 50% of maximum, Gorilla House Gym was able to hold more customers than it would ever draw anyway, because it’s a big place, said owner Ray Ross.

Conversely, at 50%, with 6 feet between tables, Landmark Restaurant in Bedford has used up all of its available space, according to Manager Cristi Gasperich.

For both facilities, permission to move from 50% to 75% doesn’t change anything.

Still, while the easing capacity restrictions won’t affect Gorilla House, it will be a major boon for small gyms hurt by the 50% restriction, Ross said.

Gyms have been open legally for a while, but they weren’t permitted to be open during two periods since the pandemic began — and that was wrong, according to Ross.

It’s ironic that the Department of Health, seeking to protect people from COVID-19 harm, nevertheless subjected them to harm by closing gyms, thus making it harder for patrons to maintain both physical and mental health, Ross said.

The work people do in gyms helps keep them safe from illnesses like COVID-19, he said.

His gym and others in the area defied the closure orders, he said.

Gorilla House opened before the end of the first closure period, he said.

It stayed open during the second closure period, as did other local gyms, he said.

The DoH closed gyms due to the potential for the spread of the virus, which is transmitted largely by droplets in the air, especially when people are breathing heavily, experts have said.

“Moist, warm air, combined with turbulent air flow from exercising may create an environment in which droplets can spread readily,” stated an article on healthline.com about gym closures.

Although the pandemic has restricted Landmark’s indoor service, it has expanded the restaurant’s takeout business, according to Gasperich.

Many Landmark customers continue to use it because they’re still uncomfortable going out to eat, she said.

The expanded role for takeout may survive the pandemic, Gasperich said.

“A lot of people found out how convenient it is,” she said.

The restaurant offered it previously, but many people probably didn’t realize it, thinking such service was reserved for certain kinds of fast food restaurants, she said.

People can call ahead and get anything on the menu, she said. Takeout is especially popular at lunch, she said. Some people wait in their cars for staffers to bring their food out, she said.

The salad bar remains closed at Landmark, and it could remain that way after the pandemic.

“We’re debating (that),” Gasperich said.

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

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