Pennsylvania gathering limits increased for most businesses

by | Oct 7, 2020 | Articles, COVID-19

The below information is current as of the publication date listed. Because COVID-19 response measures on all fronts are continually evolving, clients should stay alert to new developments and consult with counsel on any critical questions.

Pennsylvania’s limits on crowds at indoor and outdoor events are now to be calculated as a percentage of maximum occupancy. For most businesses, this means an increase in gathering limits.

On July 15, 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, issued orders limiting events and gatherings to 25 people if indoors and 250 if outdoors.

On October 6, 2020, the governor and the secretary amended those orders so that gathering limits are based on a percentage of a venue’s maximum occupancy.

A venue must first determine its maximum occupancy as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code. When no fire code capacity is published or available, maximum occupancy should be calculated as 67 people per 1000 square feet. The orders advise venues to contact their local building code officials if they are unaware of their maximum occupancy. A frequently asked question on the Department of Health website states:

I do not know the occupancy of my event space. What do I do?
Contact your local building code official regarding your business’s occupant load/capacity. Ninety-five percent of Pennsylvania municipalities enforce building codes through local building code officials or a certified third party; if your business is within a municipality that has relinquished its building enforcement authority to the Department of Labor & Industry, please contact the Bureau of Occupational and Industrial Safety at 717-787-3806.

Per the Order, when no fire code capacity is published for outdoor events or gatherings, an event organizer can consider their standard occupancy to be 67 people per 1,000 square feet and then must apply the Maximum Occupancy Calculator to that number.

Once maximum occupancy is determined, a venue’s gathering limit is determined by applying the following calculators from the amended orders:

For indoor events

Maximum OccupancyGathering Limit
0 – 2,000 people20% of Maximum Occupancy
2,001 – 10,000 people15% of Maximum Occupancy
Over 10,000 people10% of Maximum Occupancy up to 3,750 people

For outdoor events

Maximum OccupancyGathering Limit
0 – 2,000 people25% of Maximum Occupancy
2,001 – 10,000 people20% of Maximum Occupancy
Over 10,000 people15% of Maximum Occupancy up to 7,500 people

The new gathering limits are effective starting October 9, 2020.

Venues must require attendees to comply with 6-foot social distancing requirements, to wear masks or face coverings and implement best practices such as timed entry, multiple entry and exit points, multiple restrooms and hygiene stations. The amended orders refer to the CDC Events and Gatherings Readiness and Planning Tool for additional information about best practices.

These amendments do not apply to businesses in the retail food services industry, including bars, restaurants and private catered events, which continue to be subject to their own occupancy limits.

The Department of Health’s FAQs explain that the new gathering limits also do not apply to religious gatherings or polling places, but weddings, school sports and non-classroom activities are covered by the order.

More restrictive orders put in place by county or local governments continue to apply.

Saxton & Stump attorney Jason Benion is available to assist businesses and professionals with these and other issues regarding operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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