Citing "Alarming Escalation" in New COVID Cases, Wolf Orders New Statewide Restrictions
HARRISBURG (JUL 15 2020) - Noting the "unsettling increase in cases" of the coronavirus in Pennsylvania over the last couple of weeks, Governor Tom Wolf today announced a series of new mitigation restrictions, which he characterized as a "targeted approach" to prevent the "new surge in the offing." The reopening of schools in the fall is currently being threatened by this resurgence, Wolf warned. The state has been adding over 750 new cases a day, on average, over the last ten days. That's up 50% from mid-June. In a press briefing this afternoon, Wolf said that public health experts within and advising his administration were in agreement that Pennsylvania stood at "a tipping point when we have to act" to avoid becoming "another Florida." The governor said that the state's contact tracing had identified three catalysts for the renewed growth in new COVID cases:
Patrons in bars and restaurants ignoring masking and social distance requirements, resulting in "pockets of super spreading" of the disease;
Out of State travel, by Pennsylvania residents to areas in the south, west, and southwest where the virus is rampant, and travel by others from those areas to Pennsylvania; and,
Lack of national coordination, permitting states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona to fail to take basic mitigation efforts in a timely or consistent fashion, resulting in the virus travelling from those areas into the south, western, and southwestern areas of Pennsylvania.
In order to address the catalysts within Pennsylvania's control, the governor and health secretary today issued orders to restaurants to reduce indoor dining by another 50% -- to 25% of normal capacity. In addition, on-premises service of alcohol is limited to customers having meals. Bars and nightclubs which do not serve meals would need to close of inside service. Cocktails to go would still be permitted. Outdoor dining rules are not changing. All service must be at a table or booth; bar service is prohibited. Businesses capable of having employees telework are now required to do so.
All gyms and fitness facilities, while permitted to continue indoor operations, are directed to prioritize outdoor physical fitness activities. All activities must follow masking requirements as provided by the July 1 order, and must provide for social distancing requirements of persons being at least 6 feet apart, as well as being limited by any limitations related to gatherings. Indoor gatherings are limited to 25 people, while outdoor gatherings may not exceed 250.
Wolf said he understood Pennsylvanians want to get back to a more normal way of life. He said these measures offer a chance at maintaining activities Pennsylvanians enjoy.
“I don’t like this any more than anybody else does,” Wolf said.
“The actions the governor and I are taking today are designed to be surgical and thus precise to prevent from repeating the cycle we saw in the spring,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, the state health secretary. “We have gained a great deal of experience since the start of this outbreak and have learned from best practices from other states as well as counties right here in Pennsylvania.”
Wolf and Levine were joined via Skype by Dr. David Rubin, a general pediatrician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rubin and his colleagues developed a unique model, which tracks and projects COVID-19 transmission in real-time across more than 500 U.S. counties with active outbreaks. The model was built to observe how social distancing, population density, daily temperatures and humidity affect the number and spread of COVID-19 infections over time across a given county.
“Over the last few weeks, public health reporting and our team’s modeling work have uncovered incontrovertible evidence that the virus is sweeping quickly into the northeast region of the United States from the west and south—where there has been a failure in some states to practice vigilance in masking and social distancing—and that it has already begun its resurgence in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. David Rubin, a general pediatrician and director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We can halt this momentum in its tracks. Governor Wolf’s measures will help stop the continued spread of the virus into Pennsylvania and its surrounding states, which would threaten the reopening of schools and our economy in the coming months.”
Small gatherings of friends in the backyard or at a local park are permitted and children and families are encouraged to responsibility take advantage of one or more of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks or other local outdoor fitness options, including at local gyms that are following social distancing protocols.
“Children can visit local playgrounds, community pools, and enjoy outdoor activities with family,” Gov. Wolf said. “We want people to spend time together, but to do so while practicing social distancing and wearing masks when required, such as any time you leave your home and are not participating in outdoor fitness.
“We have seen these efforts work during the first wave in the spring, and they will work again if we all do our part. Thank you to every Pennsylvanian for your continued patience and support. I know you are eager for life to get back to normal, and I am, too.” Wolf, Levine, and Rubin all emphasized that if the current growth of infections in the state is not reversed, schools would not be able to safely reopen for in-person classes in the fall. "The time for action is now," Rubin said. Schools will not be able to open in six weeks "if we don't get community transmission under control now."
Levine rejected reports that the virus has become less severe. "There is no evidence that the virus is less virulent or severe," Levine said. While hospitalizations in the state have remained steady during the increase in cases -- Pennsylvania currently is using only 88 of its over 5,000 ventilators for COVID patients -- Levine emphasized that hospitalizations lag infections. Levine said it was necessary to act now to prevent hospital assets from being overwhelmed. "If we continue to do nothing," Wolf said, "I can guarantee you we will end up looking more like Florida."