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Gov. Wolf to move 12 more counties into yellow phase next Friday; some are in southcentral region

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Gov. Tom Wolf will add 12 new counties into the yellow phase of his coronavirus reopening plan next Friday, bringing the total to 49 of the 67 Pennsylvania counties.

Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne, and York counties will move to the yellow phase May 22.

Red phase stay-at-home orders remain in effect until June 4 for the remaining 18 counties, including Dauphin, but that does not mean that other counties will not move to the yellow phase in advance of that date.

RELATED STORY: Breakdown for Friday, May 15: How did southcentral counties moving to yellow phase next week fare?

“Through our social distancing efforts, we have not only reversed a trajectory of exponential new case growth — we have cut it in half,” Wolf said in a press release. “And some of the counties that will be shifting into the yellow phase next week eliminated concerns that we had just two weeks ago. So please, keep up your efforts in the fight so we can continue to add counties to the list of those in the yellow phase."

The state is closely monitoring the counties in the yellow phase and will re-impose restrictions if danger arises, Wolf said. If the new case count begins to climb in one area, restrictions will need to be imposed to prevent local medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed, he said.

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

That follows 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.

Wolf came under fire late last week from leaders in several counties that demanded they be moved into the yellow phase faster, including Dauphin County.

Commissioner Mike Pries had tweeted Friday that “Dauphin County will be joining Lebanon County and move to Phase Yellow of #COVID19 Phased Reopening Plan on May 15, 2020.”

Jeff Haste, the chairman of the Dauphin County commissioners, issued a letter last Friday that told Wolf to stop running a “dictatorship” and to open up more of the state. He backed off those comments Wednesday, according to PennLive, after Wolf on Monday said that counties that go against the reopening phases he has set risk losing coronavirus relief funding, and businesses could lose their licenses.

“He showed he had the big stick, and he showed he’s willing to use it,” Haste said Wednesday, PennLive reported, after commissioners swapped a proposed reopening resolution for the creation of a task force aimed at helping all businesses maximize their opportunities within the framework of Wolf’s plan.

Lebanon County apparently is moving forward with its plans to move to the yellow phase even though it is not currently on Wolf’s list.

A group of that county’s elected officials sent a letter to Wolf last Friday that it planned to move to the yellow phase this Friday, May 15.

The letter was signed by Sen. Dave Arnold, 48th Senate District; state Rep. Russ Diamond, 102nd House District; state Rep. Frank Ryan, 101st House District; state Rep. Sue Helm, 104th House District; Lebanon County Commissioners Bill Ames and Bob Phillips; Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf; Lebanon County Coroner Jeffrey Yocum; and Lebanon County Sherif Bruce Klinger. All are Republicans, as are Haste and Pries. Wolf is a Democrat.

Beaver County leaders also have bristled that it remains in the red phase even though the counties around it are or will be in the yellow phase. It is the only county in the western part of Pennsylvania that remains in the red, likely because it is home to Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, site of the worst nursing home outbreak in the state with more than 70 coronavirus deaths. However, it is now slated to move to yellow.

Wolf responded Monday by saying the state and its residents are in the middle of a war, and that business owners who open before it is safe and the politicians who encourage it are “choosing to desert in the face of the enemy.”

He added: “The politicians who are encouraging the people who they were elected to lead to quit the fight are acting in a most cowardly way.”

He expanded on his comments Thursday.

“We can’t afford to politicize this. This is really a fight that we’re all in together. We have a common enemy. It’s the virus. It’s not each other. The intramural squabbling is not going to get us to a safe place. I recognized that we can all have differences of opinion as to how we do this. We are in uncharted territory here. But we all have the same goal, and that is to stay safe and to defeat this virus. To the extent that we distract ourselves in any way, politicizing it, pointing fingers at something other than the virus, we are basically playing right into the virus’s hands here,” he said.