Residents of northcentral and northwestern Pennsylvania are projected to be the first in the state to be released from Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order, and many retail stores in those areas should be able to reopen, under a statewide plan announced Wednesday night.
Wolf wants to begin easing some pandemic restrictions on May 8 in areas of Pennsylvania that have been lightly impacted by the new coronavirus.
His reopening plan said a region or county will need to average fewer than 50 new positive cases of the virus per 100,000 residents for 14 days in order to begin moving out from under his statewide lockdown. Many counties in rural Pennsylvania have reported fewer than 20 cases total.
“We’re trying to be prudent and careful and we want to keep people safe," Wolf said at a video news conference Wednesday night.
The virus has infected more than 35,000 people in Pennsylvania and killed more than 1,600, but Wolf, a Democrat, says the state has made sufficient progress in its fight against COVID-19 to begin a gradual loosening of restrictions. Republican lawmakers are pressing for a more aggressive timetable.
As the virus begins to ebb, and each county or region meets the state’s case reporting threshold, residents will be permitted to leave their homes and in-person retail will be allowed to resume, according to Wolf’s plan.
The plan lays out a phased, color-coded reopening roadmap and, right now, all of Pennsylvania is at “red,” meaning that all 12.8 million residents are under orders to stay home and all "non-life-sustaining" businesses are closed. Regions and counties will move from red to yellow, and then, eventually, to green, meaning that all pandemic restrictions are lifted, aside from any federal or state health guidelines that remain in effect.
But even under yellow, a ban on gatherings of over 25 people will remain, and gyms, casinos, theaters and other indoor recreational, wellness and entertainment venues will stay closed. Restaurants and bars will still be limited to carry-out or delivery, and businesses must follow federal and state guidance for social distancing and cleaning.
Some details have not been worked out, Wolf said, such as whether hairdressers and barbers can resume under yellow. And a metric to move from yellow to green has not been worked out either, Wolf said.
Wolf also pushed up the date that limited building construction work may resume statewide, from May 8 to May 1. But he cautioned that if the virus flares up again in a certain county or region, residents would be ordered back home and businesses would have to shut down again.
Schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.