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Gov. Wolf Outlines Phases for Reopening Pennsylvania

by on April 22, 2020 7:34 PM

As the commonwealth continues to work to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday offered more details on his plan for reopening Pennsylvania, including color-coded phases for easing restrictions where case counts are low.

Last week Wolf outlined standards the state would use for a gradual reopening of businesses and services and on Monday said May 8 would be the target date to slowly begin that process.

Wolf said reopening would occur by region and would be guided by metrics set by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, including an average of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 individuals over the course of 14 days. He added that testing rates, the ability to investigate cases, contact-tracing capabilities and proximity to high-risk settings also will be considered.

"We will not just be flipping a switch and going from closed to open," Wolf said. "Ultimately the virus is going to set the timeline, not us."

Health department metrics and a modeling tool developed by Carnegie Mellon University will be used to determine whether a county or region should move to one of three phases: red, yellow or green.

The red phase currently applies to the entire state and includes stay-at-home orders and the operation of only "life-sustaining" businesses.

The first phase toward reopening would be yellow, in which some of the restrictions would be eased. 

"Specifically we’re modeling the north central and northwest parts of Pennsylvania based on the criteria and the model with the goal of moving them to the yellow phase on May 8," Wolf said.

He did not specify which counties defined those regions, but mentioned Tioga, which has 14 cases currently, to the east, and McKean (four cases) to the west. Cameron, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Potter, Venango and Warren counties are all located in that region as well and each has fewer than 10 cases.

In the yellow phase, stay-at-home orders would be lifted but mitigation measures like masking and distancing would remain in place. Retail would be permitted to reopen with protections in place and curbside pickup or delivery preferred. Businesses should continue to use remote work and where that's not possible, in-person operations must follow worker safety guidelines. Child care would be open with worker and building safety orders.

School buildings, recreation venues, gyms, spas and entertainment venues would remain closed and bars and restaurants would still be limited to takeout or delivery. Large gatherings also would still be prohibited.

Wolf said it was not yet determined if hairdressers and barbers would be allowed to open in the yellow phase.

The green phase would lift the remaining orders but Pennsylvanians would still be required to follow Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health guidelines.

"These steps will be in combination with a regional approach," Wolf said. "If southeastern Pennsylvania continues to be a concern, reopening will be slower there than the places where the case counts have been low."

He also cautioned that a target date might need to be pushed back because of new cases, or reopened areas might have to close again because of a resurgence.

"By using this measured, step by step rollout of reopenings we can continue to protect the lives of Pennsylvanians, especially the most vulnerable," he said. "But it will take continued help and support from everyone."

Wolf also confirmed that construction across the state now will be permitted to resume on May 1. It was previously scheduled to restart on May 8.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said he and Senate Republicans were encouraged by the direction of Wolf's remarks on Wednesday night

“We are encouraged to see that the governor finally has come around to our way of thinking when it comes to moving Pennsylvania forward from this public health crisis," Corman said. "His announcement tonight is a page from the legislation the Senate passed last week that provided clarity, consistency and benchmarks to the process.

“We need an approach to reopening Pennsylvania that is driven by the understanding of how differently this virus has affected our communities. We have repeatedly called for the governor to set a reasonable approach to allow employers to safely bring people back to work. This was a step toward achieving that. It is our hope that in the coming days the governor provides more information to the process he outlined tonight.”

Centre County has 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and two deaths related to the virus as of Wednesday morning. Statewide there have been 35,684 cases and 1,622 COVID-19 deaths.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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