Pa. counties see lifting of some restrictions under Wolf reopening plans

by Kate Shunney

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf last week moved 24 of the state’s counties to a “yellow” status, lifting some of the Stay at Home orders and restrictions that have been in place since April amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Monday, Pennsylvania had confirmed 56,611 cases of the respiratory disease. More than 3,700 state residents have died from the disease. Fulton County has had 8 confirmed cases and no deaths, with 133 county residents testing negative for the disease.

“Over the past two months, Pennsylvanians in every corner of our commonwealth have acted collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. “We have seen our new case numbers stabilize statewide and while we still have areas where outbreaks are occurring, we also have many areas that have few or no new cases.”

The 24 counties that will move from red to yellow on May 8 are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren.

Fulton County has not been under specific restrictions, but has been affected by statewide rules that shut down non-essential businesses on March 19 and closed schools for the remainder of the year on April 9.

Further guidelines issued on April 15 put rules in place about how businesses must sanitize and how they could continue to serve the public. Wolf also issued rules that require people in the state to wear face masks or coverings when in stores as customers and workers.

State officials have said the administration partnered with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to make and use a “Risk-Based Decision Support Tool” that helps them know when restrictions can be lifted and other public health decisions must be made.

“The CMU tool looked at the impacts of risk factors such as reported number of COVID cases per population of an area; ICU and medical/surgical bed capacity; population density; population over age 60; re-opening contact risk, such as the number of workers employed in a currently closed industry sector,” the governor’s statement said.

A county’s ability to conduct testing and contact-tracing for COVID-19 is an important factor in that decision-making, he said.

“Factors include: having enough testing available for individuals with symptoms and target populations such as those at high risk, health care personnel, and first responders, and the ability to perform robust case investigation and have in place a contact-tracing infrastructure that can quickly identify a cluster of outbreaks to issue any necessary isolation and quarantine orders.”

“Our goal since this pandemic was first identified in Pennsylvania has been to save lives while ensuring that the public health system does not become overwhelmed with people suffering from COVID-19,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Our contact tracing and testing plans will ensure that as we begin to resume our daily activities, we can do so safely and without fear.”

State and national public health officials continue to recommend that people work from home when possible, reduce unnecessary social gatherings and in-person meetings and trips away from home. The public is urged to keep practicing safe hand-washing and sanitizing of frequently-used surfaces, and staying home if they are ill.

Large gatherings of more than 25 people are still prohibited.

Gov. Wolf stressed the need for all Pennsylvanians to now, more than ever, take personal responsibility for their actions.

“Every human-to-human contact is a chance for the virus to spread, so more contacts mean a higher likelihood of an outbreak,” Wolf said.