Some counties in Pennsylvania could see practically all of the state's pandemic restrictions on business activity and gatherings lifted in the coming days, other than social-distancing and health-monitoring guidelines that are in place to help stop the spread of the coronarivus.
Thursday's announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf — that some counties could get to move to the least-restrictive “green” phase of his three-color traffic-signal reopening plan stages — could become official on Friday.
“So I'll be announcing a whole range of counties tomorrow moving from red to yellow and the hope is that we’ll also be making some counties that might even be moving from yellow to green tomorrow,” Wolf told reporters on a conference call.
With the number of new infections slowing, Wolf has been easing social distancing restrictions and allowing many businesses to reopen in lightly impacted areas of the state.
It is not clear, exactly, what restrictions, if any, will remain in place in the green phase.
Wolf’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said the Health Department will soon release criteria for moving a county into the green phase of Wolf’s reopening plan.
“As we release the metrics to go into the green zone, we’re also working on what life in the green zone would (look) like, especially for businesses, restaurants, etc.,” Levine said Thursday at a video news conference.
On Friday, 12 already-announced counties — Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York — will move from red to yellow and join 37 other counties.
Eighteen mostly eastern Pennsylvania counties that are home to 60% of Pennsylvania's 12.8 million residents — including Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs — have yet to receive word as to when they will leave the red phase.
Wolf's stay-at-home order still applies in the red phase, as do many restrictions on business activity that lift in the yellow phase.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Thursday:
DRINKS TO GO
Drinks to-go are now legal at Pennsylvania's bars, restaurants, hotels and other liquor license holders.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Thursday that lawmakers passed overwhelmingly as a way to provide some outlet for bars and others to make money while they are shut down or limited during the state's pandemic restrictions on in-house dining and drinking.
There are limits on the drinks.
The drinks must be sold as mixed drinks in quantities no larger than 64 ounces in a sealed container, and not after 11 p.m.
To sell the drinks, hotel and restaurant licensees that offer meals to-go must have lost at least 25% of their average monthly sales due to coronavirus restrictions.
Licencees can continue selling the drinks after the state's disaster order if they are operating at less than 60% of their normal business.
Wolf said he didn't necessarily think the legislation was a good idea, but noted its overwhelming support in the Legislature as a lifeline to bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile, bars and restaurants in counties that have been minimally impacted by the coronavirus are asking to be allowed to seat customers again, at least outside.
Those bars and restaurants should be able to open decks, patios and courtyards, at up to 50% of the outdoor maximum seating capacity and with tables at least 6 feet apart, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said.
Parking lots also could be used to offer limited seating, roped off with a single entry point, while the bars and restaurants could offer live entertainment, with restrictions on noise levels, the group said.
As the virus continues to ebb, the association said it wants establishments to be able to seat patrons inside, with the same social-distancing rules as outside.
POLLING PLACE REDUCTIONS
Pennsylvania’s Department of State approved Philadelphia’s plan to consolidate some 850 polling places into 190 polling places for the June 2 primary election that will be conducted while the city is likely to still be under the governor’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.
Allegheny County, the state’s second-most populous county behind Philadelphia, received state approval to set up 211 polling places, down from about 830. Montgomery County, the third-most populous county, is planning to set up 140, down from 352.
The fear of infection has made it difficult to recruit polling workers, and state and federal health guidelines have made it difficult to find polling places that can accommodate the demands of social distancing, local election officials say.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday reported 102 additional deaths linked to COVID-19, raising the statewide total to 4,869.
Two-thirds of the state's deaths have been among residents of nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults.
State health officials also reported that 980 more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus. The state has recorded fewer than 1,000 new cases for 11 consecutive days.
Since early March, infections have been confirmed in more than 65,000 people in Pennsylvania.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.