Shut-down Restrictions To Be Lifted In Parts Of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania top officials expect to make announcements Friday about reopening portions of the state effective May 8, although it may take some time yet for Delaware County with all of its population density and other factors, to be affected.

“The Southeast and the Northeast are continuing to see significant rates of COVID-19,” Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Tuesday. “They’re continuing to see significant rates of hospitalization and we need all available hospital beds to take care of those patients.”

On Tuesday, Delaware County had 3,514 positive cases of coronavirus with 164 deaths related to the virus that first appeared in the county and in the state on March 6.

However, the situation is starting to change.

“I think that it is passed the peak,” Levine said of the virus presence in Southeastern Pennsylvania. “The virus determines the timetable but as we look at the trends in data … we look at three-day averages, we look at seven-day averages, we look at two-week averages … Looking at those trends, it does seem that we are past the peak but as we start to reopen as counties and regions go from red to yellow, we’re going to have to be very, very careful that we don’t see outbreaks and that we’re able to deal with those very, very quickly to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

As time has passed, Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated that on Friday, he will announce the lifting of some guidelines for specific parts of the state as of May 8.

Here, in Delaware County, the stay-at-home order was issued March 23. Four days prior to that, the governor ordered that all non-life-sustaining businesses close.

“We are planning for the days and weeks ahead when we will not only safely return Pennsylvanians to work but return to a different and more resilient Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “While we cannot be certain of the future path of this disease, our decisions will be driven first by prioritizing the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians.”

In determining the reopening schedule, the governor said he is relying on a data-driven support tool designed in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University to determine when parts of the state should reopen in a three-phase process.

In the red stage, only life-sustaining businesses may be open and stay-at-home orders are in place. Restaurants and bars are limited to carry-out and delivery only. Schools and child care centers are closed. Congregate care and prison restrictions are in place. Travel for life-sustaining purposes only are encouraged.

In the yellow stage, telework is encouraged to remain ongoing, where possible. Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and safety protocols, such as 6 feet distancing and the wearing of masks. Stay-at-home orders are lifted but with aggressive mitigation, such as the wearing of masks. Gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. Indoor recreation and health facilities, including casinos, spas and gyms, remain closed.

“Whenever possible when businesses are in a county, in a region that goes from red to yellow, whenever possible, we would like to continue to telework,” Levine said. “Again, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to stay home and if you can telework, then that would be great. But, if businesses do need people to come back to work, to the office, they can do that and we will ask them to follow the business guidance that has been released. We want people to wear masks. We want people to be 6 feet apart. We, of course, recommend the hand washing and other measures …. to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Some businesses that will swing open their doors in this stage include libraries, nail salons and pet groomers.

“Many stores will be able to reopen,” Levine said. “We still want people to practice social isolation. We still want those businesses to follow the business guidelines about social isolation and we want people to wear masks.”

Courts, however, she warned, is a whole separate branch of government.

“We don’t control the court system,” Levine said, adding that the Office of General Counsel does have regular discussions with the courts about public health implications of their activities. “In a red area, our recommendation would be that they continue to keep the courts from having public activities and sessions and hearings and stay as remote as possible.”

Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place in the yellow phase and schools remain closed for in-person instruction and restaurants and bars continue to be open for carry out and delivery only.

In the green phase, life returns to a “new normal,” with all businesses open, but following federal and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines, which also must be followed by individuals. Aggressive mitigation orders in this stage are lifted.

Factors to be considered in reopening include population density, mobility, availability of testing and health care resources. A target goal is having 50 or fewer cases per 100,000 for 14 consecutive days. For Delaware County, that would be approximately 250 new cases or less.

“We’re going to be looking at quantitative factors and we had talked about the rate of infection in a county but there are other qualitative factors that will go into making those decisions at the end of this week,” Levine stated. “As we go from red to yellow – which is not green, it’s not normal activity – I think the residents of those counties and regions should have confidence that we are and have developed a plan in terms of case investigation and contact tracing.”

The secretary warned, however, that coronavirus is not something to be taken lightly – and it’s no seasonal flu.

“COVID-19 is very different than the seasonal influenza that we see every year,” she said. “This is a global pandemic. There have been over 3 million cases of COVID-19 in the world. We are approaching 1 million cases in the United States and there have been well over 50,000 deaths in the United States … This is much more contagious than the flu and it’s more lethal than the flu. COVID-19 continues to pose a significant public health threat to the United States and to Pennsylvania.”

 

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