Wolf to lift restrictions in 12 more counties — none in Philadelphia region

KYW Staff
May 15, 2020 - 2:05 pm

UPDATED: 5/17/20, 1:37 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — At his Friday press briefing, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that another group of counties will move from “red” to “yellow” in his phased-in reopening plan, but counties near Philadelphia — like Delaware, Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, Berks — will remain in the “red.”

Related: Sign up for KYW Newsradio's daily newsletter for the latest on the coronavirus pandemic across the Philadelphia region.

Wolf said Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York will be the next batch of counties moving to the “yellow” phase, effective May 22. Carbon and York are the closest counties to the Philadelphia region.

Wolf made the announcement as stay-at-home orders were officially lifted for 13 lightly impacted western counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland. Some businesses in these counties can now reopen.

As of Friday, more than half of Pennsylvania’s counties are now in the “yellow” phase.

All told, by the end of next week, more than 40% of Pennsylvania's population will have seen an easing of pandemic restrictions that were intended to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Wolf’s announcement comes a day after President Donald Trump criticized his plan, saying he’s moving too slowly.

“You need to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit,” said the president to a crowd in Allentown. He was visiting a PPE distribution plant in Upper Macungie. “You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected and they want to keep them closed. You can’t do that.”

The state's efforts to contain a virus outbreak that has sickened more than 60,000 and killed more than 4,300 statewide have cratered the Pennsylvania economy, and Wolf is under pressure from Republican and Democratic county officeholders alike to reopen more quickly. Some GOP-controlled counties have threatened to lift restrictions on their own — without Wolf's blessing — bringing threats of retaliation from the Democratic governor.

In the counties where Wolf has lifted restrictions, people are now permitted to gather in groups of up to 25, although larger crowds remain prohibited. A wide range of retailers, offices and industrial sites can resume operating while observing state and federal health guidelines intended to prevent viral transmission.

However, gyms, barbershops, nail salons, casinos, theaters and other such venues are required to remain closed and other restrictions will remain in place, including a ban on youth sports.

Additionally, bars and restaurants may still offer only delivery or takeout service, although a major trade association is urging Wolf to begin allowing them to add seated dine-in service.

A handful of gyms, barbers, hair salons and restaurants have opened against the governor's orders, saying they can operate safely. Wolf has said they are risking their business licenses and other governmental approvals to operate.

Pennsylvania has about the 10th highest rate of coronavirus infection nationally, according to federal statistics.

About 2 million Pennsylvanians — more than a quarter of the state's workforce — have lost their jobs since mid-March. In comparison, there are roughly 60,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the commonwealth — about 3% of the number of newly jobless residents.

In an interview with KYW Newsradio, the governor said he understands business owners’ frustration, but if he lifts restrictions in some hard-hit areas too soon, the virus could resurface, and it “we’re going to be in a worse place than we are in right now.”

Wolf seemed to commiserated with residents still in “red” counties on Friday, but he said that frustration should be directed toward the virus, not the government. 

He reiterated the danger cited by experts: “Epidemiologists see a single person in a busy store exhale a cloud of virus particles, and seven other customers standing nearby, inhaling those particles. Epidmeoligists see an essential worker taking the bus home to another county and unknowingly share the virus with a dozen other riders.”

Delco expands testing resources

Delaware County’s strategy for safely restarting all businesses will hinge on building infrastructure, with more testing options a top priority.

“This testing capability along with case investigation and contact tracing is the backbone of the infrastructure we speak of,” Delaware County Councilman Kevin Madden explained. 

Residents who don’t have primary doctors to order COVID-19 tests will be able to visit two new testing sites at ChesPenn Centers in Upper Darby and the city of Chester.

The county will roll out a mobile testing unit as well.

State case count

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 623 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, lifting the state's total to 62,234 cases.

Health officials also confirmed 15 additional deaths, raising the death toll to date to 4,418.

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.

COVID-19 has taken an especially hard toll on the state's nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults, which account for more than two-thirds of the statewide death toll.

Philadelphia provides an update

Philadelphia's Department of Public Health announced 257 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 Saturday, which brings the city's total to 19,606.

10 additional deaths were confirmed, raising Philadelphia's total fatalities to 1,031. More than half the total deaths have been in long-term care facilities.

"Today’s numbers show clear signs of progress for Philadelphia," said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. "We received a large number of lab reports today so the relatively low number of cases is a sign of continuous decline."

Farley continued to advocate social distancing and wearing masks, in order to continue the downward trend.

___

KYW Newsradio’s Rachel Kurland, Pat Toddy and Jim Melwert, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this report.