Wolf: Northampton, Lehigh, All Other ‘Red’ Counties Moving to ‘Yellow’ by June 5

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Tom Wolf Coronavirus

Credit: Office of the Governor of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (FILE PHOTO)

Pennsylvanians who live in the state’s so-called “red counties” can expect to see some loosening of restrictions associated with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order–enacted to help stop the spread of the coronavirus–by June 5, Wolf said Friday.

Wolf announced that eight more counties will move from red to yellow on May 29: Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

That will leave 10 mostly southeastern counties–including Lehigh and Northampton–still in the red. The other counties that Wolf said are expected to move to yellow by June 5 are Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Montgomery and Philadelphia.

The first counties to move from red to yellow two weeks ago are located in north central and northwestern Pennsylvania, and Wolf announced that 17 of those mainly rural counties will move to the least-restrictive “green” phase of his reopening plan May 29.

The red phase is the most restrictive phase of the state’s shutdown, which began in March, and comes with things like prohibitions on gatherings of 10 or more people. Under the yellow phase, up to 25 people may gather, although social distancing guidelines and other current state mandates must still be followed.

Other guidelines for counties that are in the yellow phase are as follows:

Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions
  • Telework must continue where feasible
  • Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders
  • Child care centers may open in compliance with guidance
  • Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place
  • Schools remain closed for in-person instruction
Social Restrictions
  • Stay at home order lifted for aggressive mitigation
  • In-person retail operations are allowable, with curbside and delivery sales preferable
  • Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities and personal care services (such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy) and all entertainment venues (such as casinos and theaters) remain closed
  • Restaurants and bars limited to carryout and delivery only

Wolf attributed the statewide progress he was able to point to Friday to the fact that residents have by and large followed the requirements of the stay-at-home order.

Specifically, he referred to a study by Drexel University which found that 60 days of staying at home saved more than 7,000 lives saved in Philadelphia alone. That study also found that it had prevented more than 68,000 people from needing hospitalization there.

Philadelphia is the hardest-hit county in the state, both in terms of total cases and the death toll caused by the coronavirus.

As of Friday, the City of Brotherly Love had more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the virus and a death toll of nearly 1,200. The case incidence rate there is also the highest in the commonwealth, with one out of every 75 people having tested positive for COVID-19.

Statewide there have been more than 66,000 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began in early March and–as of Friday–nearly 5,000 deaths, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics. Some other data sources put the number of cases as of Friday at around 70,000. Either way, Pennsylvania is near the top of the list of states with the most cases.

Lehigh and Northampton counties have both been among the harder hit Pennsylvania counties, with confirmed cases of 3,613 (Lehigh) and 2,842 (Northampton) as of Friday.

Each county has recorded nearly 200 deaths from the virus, many of which have occurred in the vulnerable populations of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Despite those grim numbers, the message from Wolf was both that things are steadily improving and that they could have been much worse.

“We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact–we know that saved lives,” he said. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time.”

He also cited New York Times data that shows Pennsylvania being one of just 19 states in which the number of new cases of coronavirus is currently decreasing. Also seeing a downward trend are New York and New Jersey, two nearby states that have seen the most cases and deaths by far. The number of new cases has plateaued in 28 other states, including Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, all of which border Pennsylvania.

“We continue to increase testing every day and are continuing to build our contact tracing capacity as well,” Wolf said. “We are able to do these things, to be successful, to reopen in this manner because of the Pennsylvanians who have made tremendous sacrifices since the virus emerged in our state. Thank you.”

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