By Kimberly Davis

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Restaurants in Philadelphia may be able to boost their indoor dining capacity by the end of this week. City officials announced Tuesday that restaurants that pass an air quality test can boost their indoor capacity to 50% on Friday, Feb. 12.

Though restaurants can start filling out applications now to reopen at 50% capacity starting Friday, it’s unclear just how many will have the cash to do so.

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“It’s easy to eat out. It’s easy, it’s simple but you’ve got to find and listen to the scientific facts,” said Milton Bermudez.

Don’t call it a come back — at least not yet anyway.

Philadelphia restaurants have been given the green light to increase their capacity limit to 50% if their ventilation systems meet certain requirements.

And those requirements aren’t very easy to meet, according to a co-owner of Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar.

“We have lights in the ductwork which kills COVID-19 and other viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, the city’s not recognized that in their new regulations and standards,” Barry Gutin said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to spend even more money to change our control board.”

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The city announced that restaurants may increase their capacity from 25% to 50% starting Friday only if:

  • HVAC system is fully operational and ventilates the entire indoor dining area.
  • At least 20 percent outside is air circulated by HVAC system.
  • Filtration MERV 11 or higher.
  • At least 15 air exchanges per hour are measured indoors.
  • Exhaust vent has a minimum six-foot clearance from tables, chairs, or other items.

“I don’t know that everyone’s going to be able to achieve this. I don’t know that everyone is going to be able to afford this. So it’s not a good solution for many restaurants,” Gutin said.

If restaurants have the cash to meet all of these requirements, they must then submit an application showing compliance and wait for the Department of Public Health to approve it.

“If people send in those forms we will review them and we will respond with a goal to respond to restaurants within 72 hours of us having received those forms,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.

Gutin says it’s a step in the right direction, but the service industry yet again has to overcome some pricey hurdles.

Many restaurant owners are not in favor of the new recommendations and believe a better solution is achievable.

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This announcement comes as the deadline for business owners to apply for coronavirus relief in Philadelphia approaches.

Kimberly Davis