Philadelphia to expand some indoor dining to 50 percent capacity

Restaurants will need to verify their ventilation circulates air at least 15 times per hour in order to increase their capacity.

Philadelphia announced on Feb. 12 that eligible restaurants will expand their indoor dining to 50 percent capacity. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Philadelphia restaurants will be able to expand indoor dining capacity to 50 percent as early as Friday if they meet new ventilation requirements, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced at a press conference today. 

Restaurants will have to verify their ventilation systems circulate air through their space at least 15 times per hour with either fans in windows or a heating, ventilation and cooling system, Farley said. Restaurants can certify their compliance online, and the city aims to respond to all applications within 72 hours, he added.

The city is experimenting with the new guidelines on ventilation and the guidance might change in the future, Farley said.

“Consider what we’re doing here with these standards version 1.0,” Farley said. “We’re going to learn from this. I’m sure there’ll be glitches with it, but as we learn from this we might need to adjust.”

New York City unveiled similar ventilation guidelines requiring restaurants to use HVAC systems operating at a minimum air filter efficiency of MERV-13 on Sept. 11, 2020. Philadelphia will require restaurants to operate systems with a minimum MERV-11 efficiency, Farley said.

Farley hopes the new restrictions will strike a balance between meeting business needs and getting people back to work safely, he said.

“We are breaking new ground,” Farley said. “We do think this is a way to try to have restaurants to get back on their feet economically and provide services to customers while doing it safely.”

Restaurants have been operating at 25 percent capacity since Jan. 16, 6ABC reported.

There are no plans to limit the ban on other indoor social gatherings that were part of the city’s “Safer at Home” guidelines released on Nov. 16, 2020, Farley said. 

The change comes amid a decrease in confirmed COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia. The city averaged 360 cases per day from Jan. 21 to Feb. 4, a drop from 443 cases per day from the previous two weeks, The Temple News reported.

“Our case counts are high and we still need to take precautions, but it’s nice to see that continued downward trend,” Farley added.

The expansion could be rolled back if the city sees another spike in cases, Farley said. 

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