COVID Spike After Defiant Early Opening Leaves Lebanon as Sole Yellow County After Next Week
HARRISBURG (JUN 19 2020) -- Governor Tom Wolf today announced that 12 more counties will move to the green phase of reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, June 26. These counties are Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Susquehanna. At the request of local officials, Philadelphia County will retain some additional local restrictions until July 3.
“When these 12 counties move on June 26, we will have nearly every county in green,” Wolf said. “It’s a testament to the many residents and businesses that have sacrificed over the past three months to stay home and adhere to the guidance the state has provided to protect lives and livelihoods. As we begin to reopen, I urge everyone to stay alert and continue to follow social distancing to maintain the momentum of mitigation we have in place.”
LEBANON COUNTY DEFIED WOLF AND OPENED IN MAY THEN CASES AND DEATHS SPIKED DRAMATICALLY
The only county not slated to move to green on June 26 is Lebanon County. Against the advice of public health experts and in defiance of orders from Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, on May 15, Lebanon County commissioners voted 2 to 1 along party lines to prematurely reopen in late May. Now, the county is facing an uptick in cases, and is unable to move to green.
“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,” Dr. Levine said. “Case counts have escalated and the county is not yet ready to be reopened. Lebanon County has hindered its progress by reopening too early. Because of this irresponsible decision, Lebanon County residents are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.” Russ Diamond, a Republican state legislator from Lebanon County, led the effort to pass a bill to overturn the state emergency declaration. The Republican-controlled county followed his plan, to have businesses and individuals "follow CDC guidelines", instead of the state's phased reopening plan. When the county commissioners reopened Lebanon on May 15, there were 863 total confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 19 deaths in the county. Since then, the number of cases increased 42%, to 1,226. That's about double the rate of increase in the rest of the state. Lebanon County deaths spiked 111% since May 15. That increase is more than 2 1/2 times the increases in deaths in the rest of the state over the same period.
PENNSYLVANIA COVID RESPONSE NETS RESULTS AMONG BEST IN NATION
Effective today, there are 54 counties in green and 13 in yellow. As counties reopen, Pennsylvania continues to see a steady decline in new cases. Wolf and Levine say this is a positive indicator that its phased, measured reopening plan is working to balance public health with economic recovery. Their view is supported by a recent CDC analysis, and by a comparison with other state recovery efforts.
The CDC’s analysis places Pennsylvania among only three states in the entire country with a 42-day steady decline in cases. The other two states are Hawaii and Montana. According to analysis by the New York Times, new COVID-19 cases are declining in less than half of all U.S. states and territories. Wolf credits the science-based, data-driven response of the state's phased reopening plan for placing Pennsylvania in the forefront of the nation's safe recovery effort.
“By participating in small actions recommended by the CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, we can continue to break transmission links even while we resume our daily activities,” Wolf said. “Things like washing hands, bringing our own water to sports practice and, of course, wearing masks.” Under the public health orders, which are as legally enforceable as other laws are, mask-wearing is required when visiting businesses in both the yellow and green phases of reopening, or in any setting outside the home where social distancing is difficult.
MASKS STILL REQUIRED IN GREEN PHASE
For several weeks, Wolf sought to downplay emphasis on required behavior and enforcement of public health orders, preferring to encourage individuals to voluntarily undertake those measures for the public good. After legislative opponents of Wolf seized on some of his equivocal comments, using them to press for a total reopening of the state (with restrictions similar to those Lebanon County imposed when it reopened), Wolf more used deliberate language this week.
“In yellow and green counties, it is required that masks are worn when visiting businesses to protect employees, employees’ families, and communities as a whole,” Wolf said yesterday. “Mask-wearing has proven to be an important deterrent to the spread of the virus, and as more counties move to green and more things reopen, we need to be vigilant in our efforts to continue our mitigation efforts.”
According to peer-reviewed studies in the New England Journal of Medicine and a recent study from Cambridge and Greenwich universities, mask-wearing prevents people from unknowingly giving COVID-19 to others and can be critical as we prepare for a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall.
PENNSYLVANIA RECORDS 500+ NEW CASES, OVER THREE NEW DOZEN DEATHS
As of 12:00 a.m., today, the Department of Health reported 526 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 80,762. The department also reported 38 new deaths for a total of 6,399 confirmed deaths during the pandemic. Most of the patients hospitalized are 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 and older. While Pennsylvania's case counts and deaths are tremendously diminished, the virus remains active in the state. In the last four weeks, the state identified over 14,500 new cases of COVID-19, and over 1,400 deaths. These figures represent 18% and 22% of the total new cases and deaths, respectively. By contrast, Monroe County's successful mitigation is demonstrated by the fact that the 71 new cases and 4 deaths it added in the same time period are only 5% and 2 1/2% of it's total of 1,366 confirmed cases, with 106 deaths. Monroe's achievement is impressive considering that for most of the COVID crisis in Pennsylvania, the county lead the state in per capita coronavirus infections.