Gov. Tom Wolf's administration moved Wednesday to expand its indoor mask order to public places outdoors where social-distancing is impossible, while he also said that he prefers to let Pennsylvania's local governments handle further coronavirus restrictions, as opposed to the broad shutdown orders he imposed this spring.
Since April, Wolf's administration has had a standing order that businesses must require employees and customers to wear masks.
But Wednesday's order is similar to a days-old order in Philadelphia, extending it to crowded public places where it is consistently impossible to remain six feet away from other people, as well as on public transportation and any indoor location where the public is generally permitted.
“The sooner we can all get to the point where all 13 million Pennsylvanians recognize ... that when we say, 'we wear masks,' that’s one way we’re going to reduce the risk of infecting other people,” Wolf said at a news conference Wednesday just before his administration announced it was expanding the mask order.
Wolf also suggested, as have officials in Philadelphia and Allegheny County, that it is a good idea for travelers to Pennsylvania to self-isolate themselves for 14 days after returning from a state with a lot of cases.
“It's like wearing a seat belt,” Wolf said. “The sooner we get to the point of saying, ‘I think this is good for me,’ the sooner we're going to defeat this disease,” Wolf said.
Wolf's broader mask order boosts Pennsylvania into the ranks of about 13 other states, according to information from the National Governors Association, as more states move aggressively to adopt such a requirement.
The expansion comes as Americans are dealing with surging cases of COVID-19 and confusion over best practices in public, especially on masks. It also comes amid alarm from officials in Philadelphia and Allegheny County about rising numbers in their daily case reports.
In a statement, Wolf said the mask-wearing order is essential to stopping the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania, “hot spots” that can be traced to situations where Pennsylvanians were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
Those are two practices "that must be adhered to if we want to maintain the freedoms we have in place under our reopening,” Wolf said.
Statewide, Pennsylvania has seen an uptick in the percentage of new positive cases since mid-June, as Wolf lifted many of the restrictions he had imposed statewide to contain a pandemic that, according to his administration, has infected at least 87,000 Pennsylvanians and killed about 6,700.
The new mask order builds in various exceptions, including for children under two, workers for whom it would be unsafe, those communicating with the hearing impaired and people with a disability, mental health condition or respiratory illness.
Separately, Wolf said that he does not envision another broad shutdown order to contain the coronavirus in Pennsylvania and, rather, hopes to leave those more “surgically precise ways of dealing with problems” to local governments.
As examples, he cited moves by Allegheny County to halt to drinking alcohol in bars and restaurants or by Philadelphia to halt plans to allow indoor dining, bars, gyms and fitness centers to reopen.
“I want the local folks to feel confident that they have the ability to take control of the things that they have to control in their area,”
Wolf's Department of Health will continue to be a partner in supporting local officials, such as sharing information and best practices, he said.
Wolf acknowledged concerns over the disease spreading through July Fourth gatherings, but said he feels pretty good about Pennsylvania's situation.