Gov. Wolf outlines reopening plan, expresses hope that southwestern Pa. will be next

Governor Tom Wolf addresses reopening of 24 Pennsylvania counties (5/1/20)

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine announced Friday the first group of counties that will be allowed to start reopening.

At 1 p.m. on Friday, the Associated Press released an exclusive preview of what Gov. Wolf is scheduled to say: that 24 counties will move from the “red” to “yellow” phase of re-opening starting on May 8. Locally, that will include five counties: Clarion, Forest, Lawrence, Mercer and Venango.

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Stay-at-home orders will be lifted and retail shops can start to reopen, though other restrictions will remain in place. The counties in the northwest and north-central regions of Pennsylvania have seen far fewer virus infections and deaths than the rest of the state, which is why they’re being allowed to re-open.

“Working together, we Pennsylvanians have flattened the curve.” That’s how Governor Wolf opened his address on Friday, referencing the 24 counties that will have some restrictions lifted - moving from the “red” to “yellow” phase.

“We’ve selected these counties in part because they have low per-capita case counts,” Wolf said. “They must continue to abide by the underlying message of yellow: proceed with caution. The yellow phase recognizes that outbreaks of COVID-19 are still possible."

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The state is asking everyone to still limit social gatherings and visits to nursing homes and prisons will still be prohibited. The governor encouraged everyone to continue to use social distancing and businesses to keep tele-working in place wherever possible. Government offices would re-open, but under the guidelines for the “yellow” phase.

“Pennsylvanians living in a county that has been moved to a yellow category should still strongly consider their actions,” Wolf said. “We know how this virus is transmitted and we know that social distancing works. We’re already looking at other counties to move from red to yellow, like counties in the southwest and south central regions. We’re going to be opening these counties as quickly as we can."

The governor acknowledged that it’s been a tough time, but that we’re starting to approach getting back to normal. He said the virus is dictating what happens, not the government.

COVID-19 testing will be increased through pharmacies and health centers, according to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health. State agencies are coordinating testing procedures, she said. The state is not planning to test asymptomatic people at this time, just those with symptoms, Dr. Levine said.

“Our goal in this pandemic has been to save lives while ensuring that the public health system doesn’t become overwhelmed while dealing with COVID-19,” Dr. Levine said. “That way as we begin to safely resume our daily activities, we can do safely and without fear.”

“As the governor has emphasized, we’re taking a very careful, measured approach. The southwest region is not yet moving from red to yellow because particularly in Allegheny County and Pittsburgh because of population and density, because those are the main factors that can lead to a significant spread of COVID-19. We’ve seen that in larger cities in the country like New York City," Dr. Levine said.

The state is working with nursing homes and long-term care facilities to ensure that positive patients are kept separate from those that are negative.

As for the frequency of updates and how fast counties will open, Gov. Wolf said it hadn’t been discussed and they want to do everything as safely and as quickly as possible.

Currently, all 67 counties in the state are under a stay-at-home order until May 8. People have been asked to only leave home for essential trips like work, the grocery store or to check on family.

The governor had said that a county would be under consideration to reopen if it has fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks.

11 Investigates crunched the numbers and found that all counties in our area meet that criteria except for Beaver County.

Starting May 1, limited outdoor activities are allowed to resume including golf courses, marinas and guided fishing tours. Campgrounds in state parks will remain closed through Thursday, May 14.

“Pennsylvanians have remained resilient throughout this COVID-19 crisis, and as we successfully continue to flatten the curve to protect our physical health, it is critical that we also focus on our physical and mental health during these extraordinary times. As the weather warms and daylight lengthens, enjoying time outdoors is an important way to manage stress,” Wolf said. “As we start to take measured, limited steps to reopen our commonwealth, reopening these industries will help to rebuild our economy and strengthen our mental health.”

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Gov. Wolf: Social distancing will be key to a smooth reopening