HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that 24 counties across the state will move to phase two of his administration's coronavirus reopening plan next week.
Beginning on May 8th, stay-at-home orders will be lifted in the following counties: 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.
Moving from the Red Phase to the Yellow Phase means in-person retail can begin again, with delivery and pick-up still preferred. Restaurants and bars, however, are still limited to delivery and curbside service.
Health and wellness centers, gyms, spas, movie theaters and casinos are among the businesses that will remain closed under the Yellow Zone guidelines.
“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."
More information on what the partial reopening of 24 counties includes can be found here.
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.
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The spread of the disease has slowed in many parts of the state, and health officials say the hard-hit area of southeastern Pennsylvania appears to be past its peak rate of increase in new cases.
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. Wolf has grouped the state’s counties into six geographic regions, and the analysis shows that three of the six regions still have too many cases to qualify.
Health officials say the incidence of new cases isn’t the only metric they’re looking at.
Expanded virus testing, sufficient hospital capacity and the ability to quickly identify and contain flareups through what’s known as contact tracing must also be in place. The state Department of Health will also use a new modeling tool by Carnegie Mellon University to help officials decide when a region is ready to reopen.
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 coronavirus-related shutdown directives will mean some counties or regions move from a “red” designation to a “yellow” designation. Those changes are to take effect next Friday, May 8.
Under the yellow designation, a ban on gatherings will lift and 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, in-person retail is allowed and child care is open, although businesses must follow federal and state guidance for safety, social distancing and cleaning.
Schools remain closed, 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.
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