Governor eyes lifting of many more pandemic restrictions

Some counties will move to ‘green’ phase

AP News
May 21, 2020 - 4:11 pm
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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Some counties in Pennsylvania could see practically all of the state's pandemic restrictions on business activity and gatherings lifted in the coming days, other than social-distancing and health-monitoring guidelines that are in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Thursday's announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf — that some counties could get to move to the least-restrictive “green” phase of his three-color traffic-signal reopening plan stages — could become official on Friday.

“So I'll be announcing a whole range of counties tomorrow moving from ‘red’ to ‘yellow’ and the hope is that we'll also be making some counties that might even be moving from ‘yellow’ to ‘green’ tomorrow,” Wolf told reporters on a conference call.

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With the number of new infections slowing, Wolf has been easing social distancing restrictions and allowing many businesses to reopen in lightly impacted areas of the state.

It is not clear, exactly, what restrictions, if any, will remain in place in the “green” phase.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the Health Department will soon release criteria for moving a county into the “green” phase of Wolf's reopening plan.

“As we release the metrics to go into the ‘green’ zone, we're also working on what life in the ‘green’ zone would (look) like, especially for businesses, restaurants, etc.,” Levine said Thursday at a video news conference.

On Friday, 12 already-announced counties — Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York — will move from “red” to “yellow” and join 37 other counties.

Eighteen mostly eastern Pennsylvania counties that are home to 60% of Pennsylvania's 12.8 million residents — including Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs — have yet to receive word as to when they will leave the “red” phase.

Wolf's stay-at-home order still applies in the “red” phase, as do many restrictions on business activity that lift in the “yellow” phase.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Thursday:

State case count

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday reported 102 additional deaths linked to COVID-19, raising the statewide total to 4,869.

Two-thirds of the state's deaths have been among residents of nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults.

State health officials also reported that 980 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The state has recorded fewer than 1,000 new cases for 11 consecutive days.

 Since early March, infections have been confirmed in more than 65,000 people in Pennsylvania.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state's confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.

Polling place reductions

Pennsylvania's Department of State approved Philadelphia's plan to consolidate some 850 polling places into 190 polling places for the June 2 primary election that will be conducted while the city is likely to still be under the governor's coronavirus stay-at-home order.

Allegheny County, the state's second-most populous county behind Philadelphia, received state approval to set up 211 polling places, down from about 830. Montgomery County, the third-most populous county, is planning to set up 140, down from 352.

The fear of infection has made it difficult to recruit polling workers, and state and federal health guidelines have made it difficult to find polling places that can accommodate the demands of social distancing, local election officials say.

Nursing home testing

Pennsylvania would have to boost its testing numbers several times over to meet Wolf's goal of administering a weekly coronavirus test to well over 100,000 people in nearly 2,000 long-term care facilities across the state. 

It's unclear who will administer the tests, who will supply them and who will pay. 

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have struggled for months to contain the virus. 

The White House has strongly urged states to carry out the tests weekly, beginning next week. Wolf says his administration has a plan in place starting June 1 to test every employee and every patient once a week.

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