Pennsylvania gamblers will be able to head to two of Penn National Gaming casinos at 8 a.m. Monday as Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-week temporary closure that began Dec. 12 expires.
Wolf made the announcement Wednesday. He said he would lift the temporary restrictions because the number of positive coronavirus cases declined during that window.
Casinos were among a list of businesses told to close their doors, despite pushback from casino executives, who cited in a letter to Wolf the day before the closure announcement that their industry generates “more than $1.5 billion in annual tax revenue and invests more than $500 million in goods and services every year with businesses across the Commonwealth.”
Penn National Gaming on Wednesday confirmed at least two casinos will reopen at 8 a.m. on Jan. 4: Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County and The Meadows Casino and Racetrack in Washington County.
“With what are perhaps the most rigorous COVID mitigation measures of any business in the Commonwealth, we are pleased to welcome both our customers and more than one thousand team members back to our facilities,” Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations Eric Schippers said Wednesday. “For Pennsylvanians who enjoy casino gaming, we know that having patrons back in the Commonwealth’s highly regulated casinos is safer than having Pennsylvanians travel to out-of-state casinos or patronize illegal skill slot machine locations where there is no regulatory or COVID safety monitoring.”
But, there are still rules to follow, Wolf said.
Entertainment venues such as casinos, theaters and museums can reopen, but they are limited to 50 percent of their indoor occupancy limits.
Gyms, fitness centers, and spas can resume indoor activities but are limited to 50 percent of indoor occupancy limits. Appointments are encouraged and the state is asking those facilities to put an emphasis on outdoor activities.
Some businesses aren’t ready to reopen yet.
“I know it’s very hard for the governor to balance business with public health, but I wish we could stay under restrictions longer,” Melissa Nicholson, executive director of the Gamut Theatre Group, said. “While Gamut is located in Harrisburg, I live in northern Dauphin County and very few businesses adhered to the restrictions to begin with. So frustrating when we are trying to get this thing under control so that we can all open our businesses again.”
The theatre hasn’t had any live performances since November when it went fully virtual.
“Gamut Theatre uses a Risk Assessment tool that is a lot more stringent than most, and we monitor cases per capita several times a week,” she said. “Our best guess is that we might be able to provide in-person programming again in late March or April pending our risk assessment.”
Nicholson said she is nervous about what’s to come in 2021 but also optimistic.
“The creation of a successful vaccine this quickly is an amazing accomplishment from the science and medical community,” she said. “Now, I hope we can distribute it in a timely way. Our business depends on it.”
While the casts and crews of several upcoming performances anxiously await getting back on stage to be eye-to-eye with their audience, Nicholson said she hopes the pandemic has “shown a light on live theatre that maybe wasn’t there before.”
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She added, “I am hoping that more people will find the joy in live performance, as opposed to television and computer screens when it is safe to enjoy it again. Theatre people are social creatures by nature, and we sure do miss everyone.”
The Susquehanna Art Museum is also not going to reopen Jan. 4, according to Executive Director Alice Anne Schwab.
“We have not decided when to reopen,” she said. “We closed during the spring and summer, and have now been closed a second time during the month of December. While the Museum’s spacious 18,500 square feet and five distinct exhibition areas do allow for natural social distancing, we are not jumping at reopening on Jan. 4. We may reopen later in January, but we do so with consideration of our essential staff and volunteers.”
Two of the Museum’s major exhibitions were extended with the hope that it will “allow more people to visit.” The Modernists was extended to May 16 and Sun + Light – an exhibition stimulated by the Freedom Rider movement of 1961 through to the present day – was extended until April 11.
Online opportunities for art enthusiasts “hungry for cultural infusion” are currently being developed.
As far as looking at 2021, Schwab said “there’s nowhere to go but up.”
“We are optimistic and hope for much better days ahead for all of us,” she said.
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