Starting Friday, June 5, Allegheny County moves into the green phase of Governor Tom Wolf's reopening plan.
To help clear up confusion, 90.5 WESA asked listeners for their questions about reopening. Here are answers to some of those questions.
Editor's note: this post may be updated as more information becomes available.
1. What's open?
While the green phase eases many restrictions, there will still be plenty in place. Child care facilites will be open, but with certain restrictions. Telework is still strongly encouraged by the state, but businesses my increase to 75 percent occupancy. Gatherings of more than 250 are prohibited. Restaurants, bars, personal care services (such as salons) and entertainment (such as malls, theaters and casinos) may all operate at 50 percent capacity. Below are some more specific guidelines:
As of Friday, bars and restaurants in Allegheny County can again offer dine-in service. But not all restaurants are choosing to re-open right away, and those that do will look a bit different because of state mandates intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Among the key changes: Restaurants can operate at only 50 percent of their legal capacity, so tables might be rearranged, or booths taped off, and if demand is high, expect longer waits and difficulty getting reservations. Staff and diners alike are required to wear face masks unless they are eating. Physical distancing is also required, and bars and other areas might feature new partitions. Soup, salad and fruit bars are temporarily closed, and reusable menus will be replaced by disposable paper menus. Some restaurants are also temporarily streamlining their menus.
Salons, gyms and spas
Salons, gyms and spas can reopen Friday, but some are taking the weekend to ready their locations for appointments and social distancing. Businesses that fall under the personal care category like gyms, hair salons and tattoo shops can only operate at 50 percent capacity in the green phase.
Some gyms are only opening to members at first and may also require appointments.
Salons and spas are also expected to operate by appointment only, and many will offer customers flexibility with cancelling appointments if they have COVID-19 symptoms
Visitors to salons, gyms and spas can expect some of the following protocols to be in place:
- Temperature checks and/or symptom screening
- Masks for staff and clients
- Restrictions on how many people can be inside the building at once
- Disposable products where possible
- Discontinuation of beverage services
- Social distancing between equipment and stations
- Regular cleaning and disinfecting
A good rule of thumb is to call ahead or visit the website of your hair salon, gym or spa to find its specific operating procedure.
Child care providers are able to open facilities to the general public in the state’s yellow phase of reopening. The state’s Department of Health asks providers to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for safety and cleaning protocols. DHS Director Teresa Miller told reporters during a call this week that the state is not requiring centers in yellow and green phases to put masks on children. Staff are require to do so per CDC guidance. As for social distancing, the state recommends centers keep the same children with the same group in the same room daily to limit cross-contamination. CDC guidance directs providers to take temperatures of children entering buildings, but whether those children will be asked to stay home for an extended period is up to individual providers.
Professional sports can resume in Pennsylvania where the governor’s stay-at-home order is no longer in force, but without spectators. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said late last month that teams and competitors will be allowed to practice or play in counties where Wolf’s yellow or green designation applies. To resume, a team or a league must develop a coronavirus safety plan that has been approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and it must include testing or screening and monitoring of all “on-venue” players and personnel. At the same time, the NHL announced it was working on a 24-team expanded playoff format that could start as early as late July.
Businesses can operate at 50 percent capacity and must comply with CDC guidelines for social distancing and cleaning. These guidelines include a disinfection plan that suggests routine cleaning using soap and water and EPA-approved disinfectants, as well as practicing social distancing, wearing facial coverings and following proper personal hygiene, such as hand washing.
2. Do I still need to wear a mask?
Bascially, yes. The public is still encouraged to wear masks while shopping, going to the doctor, using public transportation or going in public, to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
As mentioned earlier, staff and patrons at restaurants are required to wear maks. Many retailers also still require shoppers to wear masks or face coverings. And the Port Authority of Allegheny County is still requiring riders to wear masks, unless they cannot for a medical or financial reason.
NPR's Health Shots also talked to experts who rated the riskiness of these 14 summer activities.
3. What is the likelihood of a resurgence?
The coronavirus is a new virus, so the exact probability of a resurgence is anyone’s guess. However, as physical distancing mandates continue to ease, an increase in infections becomes more likely. In preparation for the green phase, the Allegheny County Health Department says it’s been training more contact tracers.
The recent warm weather may be part of the reason why COVID-19 illness levels are relatively low right now. Like seasonal influenza, there is a chance there will be a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall and winter. The 1918 Pandemic had three waves with the second and deadliest wave peaking in the fall.
Public health officials say wearing masks, frequently washing hands and teleworking will help prevent a spike of new cases.
Gov. Tom Wolf has not outlined how much of a COVID-19 resurgence would have to occur for restrictions to be put back in place, but he has said this is possible if there is a significant increase COVID-19 illness in a particular area.
4. What is contact tracing and how does it work?
When an Allegheny County resident has a positive COVID-19 test result, one of 10 case investigators from the county health department gets in touch with the patient. The investigator helps the patient recall everyone they had contact with, starting 48 hours before they began experiencing symptoms. Then a county contact tracer notifies all the people who were possibly exposed and encourages them to quarantine. The identity of the coronavirus patient is not revealed to their contacts.
In counties that don’t have their own health departments, state-employed community health nurses do this contact tracing work.
5. What is the justification for moving into the green phase?
A county is eligible to move into the green phase if “overall risk remains mitigated for fourteen days” during the yellow phase.
Before diving into the numbers, it’s important to note a few shortcomings of the data we have access to. First, data provided by Allegheny County does not always match data provided by the state of Pennsylvania. For the purpose of this analysis, we are working with county-reported data only.
Second, the way data is reported from the state to the county has not always been consistent, particularly with regard to the total number of tests performed. On Monday and Tuesday, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard said there had been more than 36,000 tests performed in the county. On Wednesday, that number dropped to around 34,000. A county spokesperson said that was because the state included antibody tests - which check to see if a person has been infected in the past - in the count over the weekend. These changes in reporting make it difficult to calculate the percentage of tests that are coming back positive.
Third, deaths are not always reported close to the date that they occurred. More on this below.
Here’s what we do know:
Allegheny County moved into the yellow phase on Friday, May 15. Two weeks later, Governor Tom Wolf announced that the county would move into the green phase on June 3. During that two-week period, the county reported 288 new cases of COVID-19, 45 new hospitalizations and 10 deaths.
During the previous two-week period, when Allegheny County was still in the most restrictive red phase, the county reported four times as many deaths (42), slightly more hospitalizations (56) and slightly fewer new cases (263).
In the week following Wolf’s green phase announcement -- May 29 to June 4 (we are still awaiting Friday’s numbers) -- the county reported 95 new cases, 11 new hospitalizations and 14 deaths. However, the county noted that 13 of those deaths actually occurred between May 8 and May 25. All but one of these deaths are believed to be linked to long-term care facilities; the county didn’t expand on what that means in its daily alert.
It’s important to note that there is variable lag time between transmission, testing, hospitalization and death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incubation period between transmission and symptoms can be up to 14 days, with the median falling between four to five days. That means that transmission that occurred during the red phase may not have shown up in the data until the yellow phase, and transmission during the yellow phase may only bear out in data released during the green phase.
WESA's Sarah Boden, Sarah Schneider, Sarah Kovash, Liz Reid, Bill O'Driscoll and Kiley Koscinski contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.