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Dauphin County moving into yellow phase, entire state expected there by June 5; some going green

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Dauphin County will move into the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan for the state in its response to the coronavirus next Friday, May 29, along with seven other counties — Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

All counties in Pennsylvania are expected to move into the yellow phase by June 5, Wolf announced today, and 17 counties will move into the green phase next Friday. The state’s current stay-at-home order for states that were still in the red phase was through June 4.

“My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do. It saved lives,” Wolf said Friday.

Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren will go to the green phase, Wolf said today.

“Our ability to identify and isolate cases of COVID-19 has increased, and this will allow every Pennsylvanian in our commonwealth to resume a more normal life without constant fear of contracting COVID-19,” Wolf said.

The 17 counties going to green have been able to maintain the yellow metrics for 14 days, Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. Activities have resumed in the counties that are moving to green without the risk of infection, she said.

“Moving into the green phase will still require precautions to keep our communities and our families safe. COVID-19 continues to be a threat to our health and welfare,” Wolf said. “Unfortunately, that won’t change until we have a vaccine or a cure. So while these counties will see a return to near-normalcy, some precautions will continue to be in effect for the safety or residents.”

Wolf reflected on how different things are since the first coronavirus case in Pennsylvania was announced in early March.

“We knew life would be different now that this virus existed. We didn’t know how different it would be. Today, we have a lot more answers then we did back then,” he said.

Counties that likely will move into the yellow phase by June 5 include the hardest-hit parts in the southeast, where multiple counties have death rates from the coronavirus per 100,000 of more than 80, far outpacing other parts of the state where the rates are in the single digits.

“We feel very confident in the decreasing rate of new cases that we’re having. We also feel very comfortable that the percent positive of new cases, so if you look at the total number tested, and then the percent positive cases, it’s continuing to go down in all the regions, particularly in the southeast,” Levine said.

As of Friday, 49 of 67 counties were in the yellow phase, but that did not include Dauphin or Lebanon counties, despite outspoken pleas by leaders in both counties to move them forward as part of Wolf’s phased reopening of the state in the battle against the coronavirus.

In deciding which counties to move to yellow, the state used risk-based metrics from Carnegie Mellon University combined with contact tracing and testing capability and a sustained reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Wolf and Levine said. While the 50 new cases per 100,000 population was considered, it did not weigh any more heavily than other factors, Wolf said.

Over the past two weeks, Wolf said:

The state has seen sustained reductions in hospitalizations. From May 8 when the first counties moved to yellow to yesterday, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized dropped by nearly one thousand — from 2,618 to 1,667. 

• The number of COVID patients on ventilators shrank by about a third, from 505 to 347.  

• New cases continue to decline: From May 8 to May 15, the state added 6,384 cases and from May 15 to 21, added 4,770.

• The current COVID-19 incidence rate in the state is 83.4 cases per 100,000 people. Two weeks ago, it was 113.6 per 100,000. Most other states are seeing their new case rate continue to increase or remain flat. Pennsylvania is one of just 19 states with new case-rate declines.

Key parts of the yellow phase include:

Work and congregate settings

• Telework must continue where feasible.

• Businesses with in-person operations must follow safety orders.

• Child care open with worker and building safety orders.

• Restrictions in place for prison and congregate care.

• Schools closed for in-person instruction.

Social settings

• Stay-at-home restrictions lifted in favor of aggressive mitigation.

• Large gatherings prohibited.

• In-person retail allowed, curbside/delivery preferred.

• Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities (such as gyms and spas) and all entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) remain closed.

Today, 12 counties moved into the yellow phase: Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne, and York.

On May 15, 13 counties moved into the yellow phase: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland.

That followed the 24 that moved there May 8: 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.

In the green phase, "we will continue to take precautions, including reducing building capacity, encouraging teleworking, limiting visitation in certain high-risk environments, and preventing large entertainment gatherings," Wolf said in a statement.

He added: “We continue to increase testing every day and are continuing to build our contact tracing capacity, as well."

Key parts of the green phase include:

Work and congregate settings

• Continued telework strongly encouraged.

• Businesses with in-person operations must follow updated business and building safety requirements.

• All businesses operating at 50 percent occupancy in the yellow phase may increase to 75 percent occupancy.

• Child care may open complying with guidance.

• Congregate care restrictions in place.

• Prison and hospital restrictions determined by individual facilities.

• Schools subject to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and commonwealth guidance.

• All businesses must follow CDC and Department of Health guidance for social distancing and cleaning.

Social restrictions

• Large recreational gatherings remain restricted.

• Restaurants and bars open at 50 percent occupancy.

• Personal care services (including hair salons and barbershops) open at 50 percent occupancy and by appointment only.

• Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities, and personal care services (such as gyms and spas) open at 50 percent occupancy with appointments strongly encouraged.

• All entertainment (such as casinos, theaters, and shopping malls) open at 50 percent occupancy construction activity may return to full capacity with continued implementation of protocols.