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Pa. puts two Schuylkill eateries on notice

Two local restaurants received orders to close after they continued indoor dining during a statewide shutdown.

The Department of Agriculture said that Leiby’s Ice Cream House and West Penn Diner were ordered to close following visits from an inspector on Dec. 28, when both restaurants were found to be open.

They were on a list of 36 restaurants statewide which reportedly received orders to close during the week of Dec. 28-Jan. 3, the final week before a temporary ban on indoor dining was lifted.

According to a news release from the Department of Agriculture, each of the 36 restaurants was ‘closed by order’ after failing to comply with the temporary ban.

Leiby’s owner Daniel Leiby said his business did not close, nor was it ordered to.

“We got a visit from the department, they gave us a paper basically saying ‘we want you to follow the closure of indoor dining,’” Leiby said. “As far as any citations or any other actions taken, there’s been no actions taken by the state toward us.”

The temporary ban on indoor dining has been the only COVID-19 mitigation guideline that the restaurant hasn’t followed, Leiby said.

Throughout the pandemic they created extra distance between tables, operating at or under the capacity mandated by the Department of Health and Department of Agriculture. Masks and extra cleaning are part of their procedures.

Leiby said he objected to the state giving only two days notice before the indoor dining ban went into effect. He said it was unfair to restaurant employees.

“They could have said ‘This is what we’re thinking, if the cases continue to go up at this rate, we may be looking at another shutdown.’?” he said.

West Penn Diner did not return a call for comment, but according to their social media they were open between Dec. 28 and the end of the ban.

The temporary ban ended Jan. 4 at 8 a.m. The Dept. of Agriculture didn’t say if it plans to take any action against the restaurants now that it has closed.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office filed lawsuits against some of the restaurants who were ordered to close earlier in the temporary ban, asking for a court order to force them to close, as well as damages.

The indoor dining ban was put in place during a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Gov. Tom Wolf and health officials said that a ban on indoor dining would decrease the risk of more intense spread of the virus. They cited studies which suggested that indoor dining led to more widespread cases.

Leiby said he felt that the orders targeting indoor dining were unfair. He did not believe there was a connection between the number of people dining out and the increase in cases which occurred in November and December, which he said is a slower time for the restaurant business.

“We’re seeing less and less people out, and the cases are going up. The next thing we know we have the finger pointed at us. Something doesn’t make sense there,” he said.