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A checkout stand blocks the entrance to Commonwealth Kitchen and Café which has voluntary closed its indoor dining room because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. 

In response to the surge of COVID-19 cases across Pennsylvania, at least two Lancaster County restaurants have voluntarily closed their indoor dining areas, a move few other establishments have made statewide.

In downtown Lancaster, the Pressroom restaurant, which is owned by Steinman Communications, publisher of LNP, reverted to a takeout-only model last Friday. “While no one from our staff has tested positive for COVID-19, we are committed to ensuring the safety for all of our guests and staff,” restaurant representatives wrote in a Facebook post.

In the western part of the city, Commonwealth Kitchen & Café cited safety factors in its decision to close its dining room and revert to take-out only beginning Tuesday.

“From a public health standpoint, it is just irresponsible for us to continue to do something that research is showing is exacerbating the problem,” said Michael Sirianni, manager of the restaurant at 420 N. Pearl St., which is losing 20 indoor seats.

“Yes, we’ve got to make enough profit to sustain ourselves through this thing, but (the pandemic) is not over, it’s not going anywhere. In fact, it’s going the opposite direction of what we want.”

Sirianni says he’s gotten only positive feedback from customers about the decision, which will mean a financial loss for the restaurant, but seemed like the right thing to do considering the small indoor dining area where it was hard to actually keep people apart.

While safety concerns were foremost, Sirianni said the possibility of mandated closures also factored in the decision.

“I think it is inevitable that the governor or the county commissioners or somebody is going to have to step up and say, ‘Yeah, you have to,’” Sirianni said.

Status quo for restaurants

But new rules for restaurants were not part of Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine’s announcement Tuesday of new travel restrictions and other measures meant to slow the spread of virus.

For John Longstreet, president and CEO of The Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, maintaining the status quo is a signal that Levine believes encouraging personal responsibility is more important than adding new rules.

“I’m very grateful that she and the governor recognize that,” he said. “They’re trying to balance the fact that people’s livelihoods are at stake, as well as people’s lives.”

Longstreet says most restaurants believe they can operate safely, a fact that explains why he has heard of only a few instances of restaurants voluntarily closing dining rooms in the face of rising cases of COVID-19. More common, Longstreet said, are restaurants cutting back because it is just so hard to profitably operate at half-capacity during a pandemic.

One such recent example in Lancaster is Decades, which announced over the weekend that it would now be closed Mondays.

“We are trying to cut back on costs and adjust to demand levels,” said Adam Ozimek, an owner of the restaurant and entertainment venue in Lancaster city. “There wasn't one big thing that caused this change, just adapting as best as we can.”