Parts of Pennsylvania that were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic will move next week into the less restrictive “green” zone for reopening businesses and restarting group activities, the Wolf administration announced Friday.
The 12 counties going from yellow to green under Gov. Tom Wolf's color-colored reopening system include Philadelphia and its heavily populated collar suburbs of Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties.
Other counties moving to green next week will be Lehigh and Northampton in the Lehigh Valley; Erie County, where local officials have pressed for looser restrictions; Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties in the northeast; and Berks and Lancaster.
The changes will encompass the cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, Erie, Scranton, Lancaster and Reading.
In the green zone, gyms, barbers and theaters can reopen at reduced capacity. Bars and restaurants may allow indoor dining, also at reduced capacity. Gatherings of up to 250 people are permitted in green zones.
Wolf, a Democrat, said local officials in Philadelphia will maintain some additional restrictions for an additional week, until July 3.
The only county left in the yellow zone is Lebanon County in central Pennsylvania. In a release, the Wolf administration blamed Republican county officials for voting to open about a month ago. A message was left seeking comment from the Lebanon County commissioners and the county administrator.
“Lebanon County’s partisan, politically driven decision to ignore public health experts and reopen prematurely is having severe consequences for the health and safety of county residents,” Wolf's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said in the release. “Case counts have escalated and the county is not yet ready to be reopened. Lebanon County has hindered its progress by reopening too early."
The number of new infections has been rising in Lebanon County since late May, increase from 88 new cases over the 14-day period ending May 28 to 213 new cases in the 14-day period ending Thursday.
A Republican state lawmaker from Lebanon, Rep. Russ Diamond, was prime sponsor of a resolution passed by both chambers earlier this month to end Wolf's shutdown. The state Supreme Court will decide whether that resolution carries any legal weight.
In other coronavirus-related developments Friday:
The state Department of Health reported 38 additional coronavirus deaths, raising the statewide total to 6,399.
Health officials also reported 526 new infections, bringing the statewide total to more than 80,750.
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.
CAR SHOW LEGAL BATTLE
Lawyers for the state Health Department and a large auto show in progress in central Pennsylvania told a judge Friday they have reached a settlement agreement in principle over the state's effort to impose a 250-person limit on attendees.
The filing sought to delay a hearing set for Friday, and asked to have the case put on hold while they work on a written agreement. No terms were disclosed.
The Health Department has sought an injunction to force Carlisle Events, the organizers of Spring Carlisle, to comply with the limit.
The organization has argued it is more like indoor malls, amusement parks and others that are restricted to 50% of capacity under social distancing regulations imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event, which began Wednesday and runs through Saturday, can attract some 100,000 people, although organizers say the crowd is expected to be far smaller this year.