A federal appeals court has temporarily reinstated the state’s crowd size limits while the Wolf Administration appeals a judge’s ruling that found those limits unconstitutional.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday at a press conference in Chester County that he welcomed the court’s move to reinstate the crowd limits, but hinted for the first time that he may be preparing to relax the restrictions that cap gatherings at 25 people indoors and 250 outdoors.
“We have to be careful about how we gather together, that’s the important thing,” Wolf said. “At the same time, we have to make sure we’re being reasonable.”
Wolf said he’s been talking to school officials and others about whether or how to change the crowd size limits.
“I’m doing everything I can listening to folks and I continue to change, as I did with restaurants,” he said.
Asked what the court’s decision means for schools that have already announced plans to allow more than 250 people to attend Friday night football games, Wolf said: “Today is Thursday, we’re working on it as we speak.”
The crowd size limits have not been in force since the Sept. 14 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Stickman, who’d concluded that the limits were unconstitutional because the state didn’t spell out what gatherings were exempt even though the state has allowed gatherings that have exceeded the state’s cap. Since then, the Wolf Administration has refused to change the limits and has said they hope school districts would follow them voluntarily.
In arguments, Attorney General Josh Shapiro asked the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to issue the stay order and reinstate the crowd-size limits during the appeal. Shapiro said Stickman’s ruling “ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus” that limits on crowd sizes are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Willfully ignoring that COVID-19 spreads through large gatherings amounts to ignoring basic science and the reality of the public health crisis surrounding us,” Shapiro said.
The lawsuit challenging the crowd size limits was brought by Butler County and a group of Republican politicians, including state Rep. Timothy Bonner, R-8, Grove City.
The 3rd Circuit Court’s move to grant the stay was “disappointing but not surprising,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.
“We continue to agree that the Governor’s congregate gathering limitations are unconstitutional and that local control over these decisions allows for the best response and takes into account geographical differences in how the virus has hit Pennsylvania,” Gottesman said.
Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said the governor’s office hasn’t shared any information about how the crowd-size limits might change.
If the governor does relax the gathering limits, “that could put this whole thing to rest,” he said.
But based on the appeals court’s move, school officials should be looking to abide by the crowd-size limits until the governor sheds light on how he plans to change them, DiRocco said.