The much-anticipated announcement that the Lehigh Valley’s two counties will move from the yellow to the green phase of Pennsylvania’s coronavirus reopening plan was made Friday by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Lehigh, Northampton and other eastern counties including Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Montgomery, Philadelphia and Susquehanna will move to the green phase along with Erie County at 12:01 a.m. Friday, June 26.
At that point, the only remaining “yellow” county in Pennsylvania will be Lebanon, which state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said is an indirect result of a decision by Lebanon County leaders to defy Wolf and reopen their county early last month.
State officials said Lebanon County has seen an uptick in cases since it reopened early.
“Lebanon County’s partisan, politically driven decision to ignore public health experts and reopen prematurely is having severe consequences for the health and safety of county residents,” Levine said in a news release Friday. “Case counts have escalated and the county is not yet ready to be reopened. Lebanon County has hindered its progress by reopening too early. Because of this irresponsible decision, Lebanon County residents are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.”
What does moving to the green phase mean in practical terms?
Under the green phase, most restrictions are eased with the lifting of stay-at-home and business closure orders. Some restrictions, such as mask-wearing, will remain in place.
One example of an industry that will be significantly impacted by the color change is the food service industries, as restaurants will once again be permitted to serve patrons inside dining rooms. Seating capacities will be lower (50 percent) than they were prior to the pandemic, however, as tables and bar seating will need to be spaced further apart.
All businesses that were operating at 50 percent capacity in the yellow phase of the reopening may operate at 75 percent of their capacity during the green phase.
Salons and barberhops will be allowed to reopen during the green phase at 50 percent occupancy and by appointment only.
Indoor recreation facilities and personal care service providers such as gyms and massage studios will also reopen at 50 percent occupancy with appointments “strongly encouraged,” according to the state’s guidance. Casinos, theaters and shopping malls will also be allowed to reopen at 50 percent of their normal capacity, while the construction industry will be permitted to resume operations at full capacity with health and safety protocols remaining in place.
State officials said Friday that they’re continuing to use risk-based metrics from Carnegie Mellon University and the Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency data dashboard, which is available here.
“The state continues to increase testing and ramp up contact-tracing efforts,” Friday’s news release said. “As of June 18, there are a total of 518 contact tracers, and a total of 4,161 contacts being monitored.”
As of Friday, there had been 4,024 confirmed casese of coronavirus in Lehigh County since the pandemic began. Northampton County has had 3,284 confirmed cases, according to Department of Health data provided in the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, which indicated that 277 Lehigh County residents and 250 Northampton County residents have died from the disease to date.