The diner will only be going against state order’s for a week: Lebanon will move to the green phase on July 3. Lebanon Daily News
Over a hundred frustrated Lebanon County residents packed the parking lot at Heisey’s Diner on Friday morning to show their support for the local business, which reopened in protest against the state’s decision to keep Lebanon County in the yellow phase of the governor’s reopening plan.
During the rally, elected officials criticized Gov. Tom Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and praised diner owner Gary Heisey for choosing to reopen indoor dining. Sen. Dave Arnold called the more than 50-year-old North Lebanon Tonwship diner a “staple.”
“Generations of Lebanon Countians have enjoyed eating delicious meals here at Heisey’s tables with their families and their friends, and one man decided to take that away from everybody. We’re taking that back,” Arnold said.
State reps. Russ Diamond and Frank Ryan, county commissioner Bill Ames and state sens. Arnold and Doug Mastriano all emphasized personal liberty during their remarks, with many calling Heisey a patriot.
Originally, Heisey only planned to open indoor dining for Friday. But, after seeing the support from community members at the rally, Heisey said he now plans to reopen his indoor dining permanently. He emphasized they are strictly following CDC guidelines, with reduced capacity, plastic screens separating tables, wearing masks and providing hand sanitizer for customers.
“I thought this through for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Heisey said after the rally. “I watched my employees suffering … We’re just tired of it.”
Heisey will only be going against the state orders for a week, as it turns out: Midday Friday, Wolf announced Lebanon would join the rest of the state in the green phase on July 3.
The state previously announced businesses that reopen against state health guidelines may be subject to temporary license removal or fines.
A Palmyra restaurant which reopened its indoor dining area in late May has received several thousands of dollars in fines so far, but have pledged to keep their indoor dining open no matter what.
During Friday’s rally, Christine Wartluft, whose family owns Taste of Sicily, vowed to stay open.
“He gave me fines, I’m still here,” Wartluft said to cheers. “I’m not going anywhere Wolf, I’m not going anywhere.”
Residents turn out to support Heisey’s, express anger with Wolf
The crowd of well over 100 people cheered along with the speakers as they criticized Wolf and Levine, and cheered loudly when a speaker mentioned President Donald J. Trump.
The rally did have a political feel – with a few wearing Trump hats, and a large RV decked out in Trump regalia parked as a backdrop. Some wore shirts saying “Don’t be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf,” and one woman wore a shirt depicting a map of the state in green, with only Lebanon in yellow reading “COVID-19 State Champs.”
Several rally attendees questioned the seriousness of the novel coronavirus pandemic – which has killed 6,579 people and infected 81,956 in Pennsylvania as of Friday – and a few said they felt the state’s response to the pandemic was more focused on political gain than safety.
Few at the rally were wearing masks, which health experts have said is effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Bonnie Kantner of Newmanstown came with a sign depicting a traffic light, with the message: “for traffic not people’s lives!” referencing the state’s red-yellow-green phased reopening plan. Newmanstown said she believes the data on COVID-19 can’t be trusted.
“I haven’t been concerned about this since day one,” Kantner said.
Donna Gathright of Richland came to the rally with the “COVID-19 State Champs” shirt.
Gathright and others said they felt the state’s decision to keep Lebanon in the yellow phase was politically motivated, after the county commissioners voted 2-1 in May to move Lebanon out of the red phase against the state’s guidelines.
“It’s time to open up,” Gathright said. “We can’t stay hiding forever.”
Nora Shelly can be reached at 717-454-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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