HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN, AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that 24 counties in rural northern Pennsylvania will see some relief from his strictest orders for residents to stay at home and businesses to close as part of a strategy to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
All of the counties that are moving from “red” to “yellow” in Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan are in the northwest and north-central regions of Pennsylvania, which have seen far fewer virus infections and deaths than the rest of the state.
The changes are to take effect next Friday, May 8. Stay-at-home orders will be lifted and retail shops can start to reopen, though other restrictions will remain in place.
“Over the past two months, Pennsylvanians in every corner of our commonwealth have acted collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said. “We have seen our new case numbers stabilize statewide and while we still have areas where outbreaks are occurring, we also have many areas that have few or no new cases.”
The counties to be included in Wolf’s announcement Friday are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.
The only county in that group to be left off the list was Columbia, which is still struggling with a relatively high number of infections.
An analysis by The Associated Press shows that only 27 of the state’s 67 counties reported too many new virus cases over the past two weeks to qualify for a gradual easing of restrictions under Wolf’s shutdown plan. But Wolf has grouped the state’s counties into six geographic regions, and health officials are also looking at regional case counts as they decide which counties can qualify for an easing of pandemic restrictions. The analysis shows that three of the six regions still have too many cases to qualify.
The administration partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create a Risk-Based Decision Support Tool that enables decision makers to strike a balance between maximizing the results of our economy while minimizing public health risks.
The CMU tool looked at the impacts of risk factors such as reported number of COVID-19 cases per population of an area; ICU and medical/surgical bed capacity; population density; population over age 60; re-opening contact risk, such as the number of workers employed in a currently closed industry sector.
The CMU metrics were considered along with the county’s or region’s ability to conduct testing and contact-tracing to first and foremost maintain robust public health.
Factors include: having enough testing available for individuals with symptoms and target populations such as those at high risk, health care personnel, and first reponders, and the ability to perform robust case investigation and have in place a contact-tracing infrastructure that can quickly identify a cluster of outbreaks to issue any necessary isolation and quarantine orders.
All reopening decisions follow the six standards outlined in the governor’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania. These include adhering to:
- Data-driven and quantifiable criteria to drive a targeted, evidence-based, regional approach to reopening.
- Clear guidance and recommendations for employers, individuals, and health care facilities and providers for assured accountability.
- Adequate and available personal protective equipment and diagnostic testing.
- A monitoring and surveillance program that allows the commonwealth to deploy swift actions for containment or mitigation.
- Protections for vulnerable populations such as limitations on visitors to congregate care facilities and prisons.
- Limitations on large gatherings unrelated to occupations.
“Our goal since this pandemic was first identified in Pennsylvania has been to save lives while ensuring that the public health system does not become overwhelmed with people suffering from COVID-19,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Our contact tracing and testing plans will ensure that as we begin to resume our daily activities, we can do so safely and without fear.”
While both Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine cautioned that we cannot be certain of the path of the virus, all decisions on partial reopening are drive first by prioritizing the health and safety of Pennsylvannians.
Wolf has said that shutdown measures he ordered starting in March have succeeded in heading off the potential that hospitals would be overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The coronavirus has infected more than 45,000 Pennsylvania residents and killed nearly 2,300, according to the latest Health Department statistics, while the state’s efforts to contain the virus have caused economic devastation, throwing nearly 1.7 million Pennsylvania residents out of work since mid-March.
The step-by-step relaxation of state shutdown orders means some counties or regions move from a “red” designation to a “yellow” designation.
Under the yellow designation, gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed. Currently, the statewide red designation bans all gatherings or outside trips that are not related to health, safety or going to work at an essential job.
Gyms, casinos, theaters and other indoor recreational, wellness and entertainment venues will stay closed. Restaurants and bars will still be limited to carry-out or delivery. Child care is open, although businesses must follow federal and state guidance for safety, social distancing and cleaning.
Schools statewide remain closed for the rest of the academic year, and visitation restrictions on prisons and nursing homes remain in place. Wolf’s administration will continue to recommend that people wear masks in public, and require businesses and commercial buildings that serve the public deny entry to customers not wearing masks.
There is no word on when an area could move to a “green” designation, with all pandemic restrictions lifted aside from any federal or state health guidelines that remain in effect.
Meanwhile, Wolf has begun loosening some restrictions on business sectors. On Friday, golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds statewide can reopen, and construction can restart.
On Monday, May 4, the administration will release guidance for businesses permitted to reopen on May 8 in these 24 counties.
The guidance is being developed through collaboration with the affected counties, Team PA, the Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Labor & Industry, among others. Guidance will build on existing safety and building safety orders released in April.
Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions:
- Telework must continue where feasible
- Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders
- Child care open complying with guidance
- Congregate care and prison restrictions in place
- Schools remain closed for in-person instruction
- Stay at home order lifted for aggressive mitigation
- Large gatherings of more than 25 prohibited
- In-person retail allowable, curbside and delivery preferable
- Indoor recreation, health and wellness, facilities and personal care services (such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy) and all entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) remain closed
- Restaurants and bars limited to carry-out and delivery only
All businesses not specifically mentioned as restricted from reopening may reopen if they follow the forthcoming guidance.
Gov. Wolf stressed the need for all Pennsylvanians to now, more than ever, take personal responsibility for their actions.
“Every human-to-human contact is a chance for the virus to spread, so more contacts mean a higher likelihood of an outbreak,” Wolf said. “If we see an outbreak occur in one of the communities that has been moved to yellow, we will need to take swift action, and revert to the red category until the new case count falls again. So, Pennsylvanians living in a county that has been moved to the yellow category should continue to strongly consider the impact of their actions.”
Counties that will remain under the stay-at-home order will be considered for reopening in the next several weeks as the state continues to closely monitor metrics and collaborate with CMU, health experts and counties.
The full reopening plan is available here.
Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 death toll rose by 62 to 2,354, the state Health Department reported Friday.
About 1,200 additional people tested positive for the virus that causes the disease, bringing the statewide total to about 27,000, according to the department.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have recovered.
For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.