It’s a few days before Christmas in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and there is plenty of room at Seven Sirens Brewing Company.
The brewery’s 7,000-square-foot tasting room has a fire code capacity of 320, but during happy hour on Monday, there are only about a dozen patrons scattered around the place, sitting in ones and twos at socially distanced tables and sipping beers served by two masked bartenders. Whether they know it or not, everyone here is engaged in an act of civil disobedience, challenging Pennsylvania’s ban on indoor drinking and dining that will continue through New Year’s Day, at least. It’s a policy that assumes all establishments in the state are equally risky—that a tiny, crowded diner or coffee shop is no different than a massive, mostly empty beer hall.
“We’re not doing anything wrong,” says co-owner Jordan Serulneck, a 32-year old with a full beard and surprisingly cheerful attitude given everything that’s happened since Seven Sirens opened in mid-February—just weeks before the pandemic hit. “It was the best timing,” he says with a weary laugh.
When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered indoor dining to close in March, Serulneck dutifully shut his doors. But what started out as a temporary shutdown was extended several times before the restrictions were finally lifted during the summer. When a new statewide shutdown of bars, restaurants, and breweries was ordered for the Wednesday night before the Thanksgiving holiday—typically a major night for social gatherings—Seven Sirens refused to yield. The newest ban on indoor drinking and dining went into effect on December 12, but 10 days later the beer is still flowing here.
“We’ve been enforcing the same measures here that we did during the summer and we’ve had no problems,” says Serulneck, pointing to the tables spread around the tasting room. With his 67-year-old mother living with him, Serulneck says he takes COVID-19 as seriously as anyone and understands the importance of mask-wearing and hand-washing. Where he draws the line, however, is in listening to orders that come from “people who haven’t missed a paycheck in nine months” and who don’t seem to appreciate the toll that shutdowns have taken.
“It’s been nine months and I don’t know how much longer they think people are just going to completely put their lives on hold,” he says.
The pandemic, of course, isn’t letting up. According to the state Department of Health, Pennsylvania is “in the midst of a spike” in positive COVID-19 tests, with more than 581,000 cases statewide as of Wednesday afternoon. There have been 14,442 deaths caused by the virus in Pennsylvania—a little more than 4 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the country.
The real crisis in Pennsylvania isn’t centered on restaurants or breweries, but nursing homes. Almost 70 percent of the COVID-19 fatalities in Pennsylvania have been tied to nursing homes. According to a New York Times analysis of COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes, six of the 10 deadliest facilities in the country were located in the Keystone State.
Story cited here.