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Reopening Pennsylvania: What you can expect when counties move to yellow phase

Gov. Tom Wolf announced that all southwest Pennsylvania counties, with the exception of Beaver County, will move into the yellow phase May 15.

Twenty-four other counties in Pennsylvania moved into the yellow phase May 8.

Here is what to expect when counties in the state start moving into the next reopening phase:

Pennsylvania counties moving to yellow phase

The 24 counties that moved from red to yellow May 8 were: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie,Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.

On Friday, May 15, all southwest counties except Beaver will move into the yellow phase.

Wolf announced that Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties will be in the second wave of reopening.

What does moving to the yellow phase mean?

Under the yellow designation, stay-at-home orders will be lifted and gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed. Currently, the statewide red designation bans all gatherings or outside trips that are not related to health, safety or going to work at an essential job. Gyms, casinos, theaters and other indoor recreational, wellness and entertainment venues will stay closed. Restaurants and bars will still be limited to carryout or delivery. Child care is open, although businesses must follow federal and state guidance for safety, social distancing and cleaning.

Here is more from Wolf’s reopening plan. You can also read about the yellow phase in the text below the graphic:

Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions

  • Telework Must Continue Where Feasible
  • Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business and Building Safety Orders
  • Child Care Open Complying with Guidance
  • Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place
  • Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction

Social Restrictions

  • Stay at Home Order Lifted for Aggressive Mitigation
  • Large Gatherings of More than 25 Prohibited
  • In-Person Retail Allowable, Curbside and Delivery 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 (such as casinos, theaters) Remain Closed
  • Restaurants and Bars Limited to Carry-Out and Delivery Only

CLICK HERE for Gov. Wolf’s full reopening plan

Wolf gives warning to businesses that plan on opening prematurely

Wolf said during a new conference May 11 that some counties and businesses “have decided to surrender to the virus," referencing leaders who have said they would not prosecute businesses in some local counties that choose to open on their own.

Wolf said the state is showing signs of success. The curve has been flattened in many areas of the state, and over half of the counties in Pennsylvania will move into the yellow phase by Friday. The hospital system was not overwhelmed and the economy was given time to increase the supply of COVID-19 tests.

Wolf said Pennsylvanians have sacrificed in ways people could never have imagined during this pandemic. He said people need to understand the consequences their actions during this time, and counties that choose to open prematurely will not receive specific funding. Wolf also said businesses that choose to open on their own could find themselves uninsured since they would be technically breaking the law.

The governor outlined the following consequences to counties that do not abide by the law to remain closed:

  • Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000.
  • Businesses in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides. The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance released details of this on Monday.
  • Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will be at risk of losing their liquor license.
  • County residents receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers.

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman reminded businesses of the importance of complying with Wolf’s and Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine’s orders for counties in both the red and yellow phases.

In addition to the critical public health objectives, Altman warned noncompliant businesses defying the governor and secretary’s business closure orders that many insurance policies contain provisions that exclude coverage for businesses or individuals engaging in illegal acts or conduct. These exclusions may apply to property coverage, liability coverage, advertising injury coverage and a host of other essential coverages.

“Businesses and residents rely on insurance coverage to protect them from liability, pay for covered losses and compensate those who may be injured or harmed,” said Altman. “It is the duty of every business and resident in Pennsylvania to ensure that they and the public at large are provided with the maximum level of protection afforded by insurance. Any actions that could potentially create coverage gaps are the antitheses of the civil duty required of all residents during these times of emergency.”

This reminder is offered to all Pennsylvania businesses and residents, regardless of their county. The department strongly encourages businesses or residents who have questions or concerns regarding insurance coverage during the phased reopening of businesses in this commonwealth to reach out to their insurance carrier to discuss concerns.

Allegheny County & City of Pittsburgh leaders give update as area moves to yellow phase

Continue remote working, tell sick employees to stay home and use common sense: those were all common themes as Pittsburgh and Allegheny County political and business leaders held a zoom news conference.

In the yellow phase, businesses that must conduct in-person operations and activities because their employees cannot telework must follow additional guidance from PA-DOH, including:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas frequently and continuing to regularly clean all other areas of the building(s);
  • Establishing and implementing a plan in case the business is exposed to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19;
  • Preventing large groups from entering or leaving the building by staggering work start and stop times;
  • Limiting the number of people in employee common areas, like locker rooms or break rooms, and ensuring these areas are cleaned frequently;
  • Conducting meetings and trainings virtually; if a meeting needs to be held in person, limiting the number of employees to 10 and maintaining a physical distance of six feet;
  • Making sure employees have access to soap and water to wash their hands, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes;
  • Providing non-medical masks for employees to wear at all times and make it mandatory to wear masks while on the work site while working in the same area (room) as others; employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health policies;
  • Making sure the facility has enough employees as applicable to follow these protocols and conduct business effectively and safely;
  • Discouraging non-essential visitors from entering the business premises; and,
  • Communicating these procedures to all employees to ensure that everyone knows how to be safe.

Dr. Debra Bogen, the director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said she expects to see an increase in cases as the county moves into the yellow phase. She said her agency will continue contact tracing and COVID-19 case investigation. Bogen said there is a plan for hiring more employees and volunteers and the agency can be flexible if the number of cases goes up or down drastically. She said the amount of testing is important for the county reopening so employers can send workers to get tested if coronavirus symptoms start showing up.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the pandemic has been a difficult time for everybody.

“Pittsburgh is home to two of the three largest job centers in the state. Based on the population density, particularly in downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, it’s absolutely imperative that these measures are followed closely,” he said.

Peduto laid out four things for businesses in the city:

  • Just because people can come back to work doesn’t mean they should. If businesses have been successful telecommuting they should continue doing that. The city and surrounding areas need a transition time.
  • Employers should consider shift changes such as workers in the office MWF or different times of day like early morning, late in the afternoon.
  • Use common sense. If you see a crowd in the lobby, don’t give handshakes. If the elevator is full, wait for the next one.
  • People need to follow all CDC guidelines

He said the city will be presenting its plan for the Fourth of July events on Friday.

One of the questions asked pertained to how strict the guidelines for the yellow phase would be enforced. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he feels businesses opening on their own or people not following the rules would come down to public influence. He said law enforcement is not sent into every situation, and he hopes that people will pay attention. Peduto said he supports Gov. Wolf warning businesses and leaders about defying his orders. He said law enforcement in the city has given warnings and utilized different methods to get people to comply. Peduto said businesses have been granted a license by the state to operate and opening on their own risks that license, insurance liability and legal issues.

Additionally, in the yellow phase, malls as a whole will not be allowed to open. Anchor stores or those with outside entrances will be allowed to operate. Businesses inside the mall will have to find a different way to conduct business if they open.

The Allegheny Conference has launched a new website for businesses as they prepare to reopen Friday. It contains everything businesses need to know to keep workers and customers safe. Click here to visit the website.

Why weren’t southwestern Pennsylvania counties involved in the first wave of reopening?

After Wolf’s first announcement, WPXI asked Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine why Allegheny County was not included in the first wave of reopening.

Her response was that, while Allegheny is meeting the 50 cases per 100,000 people threshold, the population density is so high that there could easily be a spike in transmission.

“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," Levine said.

We looked at the numbers and found that the total population of all 24 counties that are moving to the yellow phase is 1.5 million people. By comparison, the population of Allegheny County’s alone is 1.2 million people.

If you combine the populations of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, it is higher than the combined total of all 24 counties that are moving to the yellow phase.

Wolf said during a conference call on Tuesday that the hope is that areas in southwest Pennsylvania can soon move from the red phase into the yellow.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania is doing a really good job, and the hope is again, we’re doing the best we can to keep people safe within the constraints of this deadly virus. We are all at the mercy of the virus,” Wolf said on the call. “The southwest is doing a good job and the hope is that they can move into the yellow phase like the 24 counties I announced last Friday, fairly quickly. It’s not meant to be any kind of a slight on anybody. I think the southwest is doing a phenomenal job and again we will be making another announcement soon. And the hope is that we can move quickly there, and wherever else in Pennsylvania we are making good progress, as we make good progress with this disease to open up and keep people safe."

Retail shops to reopen on May 15 with strict health guidelines in place

Some retail shops like the Tanger Outlets in Washington County will be able to reopen on Friday, but what's increasingly confusing is which stores at your local mall can and will reopen.

You can't miss the changes you'll see when the caution tape comes down and you're able to go in your favorite stores again.

Signs will tell you how far apart to stand, arrows ushering you in and out, designated doors and every other bathroom sink taped over to allow for social distancing.

Tanger Outlets in Washington County are going to reopen from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily – with strict measures in place:

  • Employees will self-screen for symptoms at home.
  • Once at work, they'll have their temperatures checked. If it’s above 100.4 degrees, employees cannot work.
  • Everyone will be required to wear a mask.

Also on Friday, free-standing retail shops and stores in plazas can reopen. However, when it comes to malls is where the grey area begins.

Gov. Tom Wolf said only stores with their own entrances can reopen – mainly big box stores.

Some managers at anchor stores told Channel 11 they don’t even know if they will reopen Friday. The Mall at Robinson and the South Hills Village Mall said only Dick’s Sporting Goods will open at 9 a.m.

Ross Park Mall showed no sign of a Friday reopening in-person or online.