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Monroe County Among 8 Moving to Yellow Next Week, with 17 Going to Green

HARRISBURG (MAY 22 2020) - Monroe County will be among eight red counties moving to the yellow phase of mitigation at 12:01 am, Friday, May 29.

Governor Tom Wolf announced late this afternoon that Monroe, along with northeast counties Luzerne and Pike, southcentral counties Dauphin, Franklin. Huntigdon, and Lebanon, plus southeastern Schuylkill County, would move into the yellow phase.

The announcement appeared to take reporters by surprise, as many of the counties identified had not met what had previously been described as the initial criteria for consideration for movement into the yellow phase of reopening, namely achieving a total of new cases in a two week period which did not exceed 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

In several responses to questions on the topic, Governor Wolf denied that the metric was ever considered a gating criteria which had to be met before movement into the yellow phase would be considered. Indeed, the governor's official press release, released during the press briefing, appears to have anticipated those questions, as it, too, expressly denied that the metric was ever considered a qualifying number: "While the 50 new cases per 100,000 population was considered, it did not weigh any more heavily than other factors," the release stated.

The 17 counties moving to green, also on May 29, include Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.

Counties that remain in red on May 29 and which the governor said he "anticipates" would be able to move to yellow by June 5 include Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.

“We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact – we know that saved lives,” Wolf said. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time.”

Gov. Wolf referred to a study by Drexel University that indicates that in Philadelphia alone, 60 days of staying at home resulted in more than 7,000 lives saved and prevented more than 68,000 people from needing hospitalization.

Yellow Metrics

In deciding which counties to move to yellow, the state used risk-based metrics from Carnegie Mellon University combined with contact tracing and testing capability and a sustained reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The governor cited success in Pennsylvania as a whole over the last two weeks:

  • The state has seen sustained reductions in hospitalizations. From May 8 when the first counties moved to yellow to yesterday, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized dropped by nearly one thousand – from 2,618 to 1,667.

  • The number of COVID patients on ventilators shrank by about a third, from 505 to 347.

  • New cases continue to decline: From May 8 to May 15, the state added 6,384 cases and from May 15 to 21, added 4,770.

  • The current COVID-19 incidence rate in the state is 83.4 cases per 100,000 people. Two weeks ago, it was 113.6 per 100,000. Most other states are seeing their new case rate continue to increase or remain flat. Pennsylvania is one of just 19 states with new case-rate declines.

Green Metrics

Counties that have been in the yellow phase for the requisite 14 days have been closely monitored for the risk associated with transitioning to the green phase.

In the green phase, we will continue to take precautions, including reducing building capacity, encouraging teleworking, limiting visitation in certain high-risk environments, and preventing large entertainment gatherings.

The guidelines for moving to green are available here, and include specifics for employers, large events, and social gatherings.

“We continue to increase testing every day and are continuing to build our contact tracing capacity, as well,” Wolf said. “We are able to do these things, to be successful, to reopen in this manner because of the Pennsylvanians who have made tremendous sacrifices since the virus emerged in our state,”

What Does the “Yellow” Phase Mean?

What will it look like next Friday? “Yellow means ‘caution’,” says Wolf. The yellow phase is also known as “aggressive mitigation” – it is not even close to a return to normal business. “More businesses can reopen, but proper safety measures must be in place,” Wolf said, “There are fewer social restrictions, but residents should continue social distancing, wearing masks in public, and doing everything they can to prevent the spread of COVID19.”

Broadly speaking, the yellow phase will look like this:

Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions

• Telework Must Continue Where Feasible

• Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business and Building Safety Orders

• Child Care Open Complying with Guidance

• Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place

• Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction

Social Restrictions

• Stay at Home Order Lifted for Aggressive Mitigation

• Large Gatherings of More than 25 Prohibited

• In-Person Retail Allowable, Curbside and Delivery Preferable

• Indoor Recreation, Health and Wellness Facilities and Personal Care Services (such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy), and all Entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) Remain Closed

• Restaurants and Bars Limited to Carry-Out and Delivery Only

All businesses in the Yellow Phase counties not specifically mentioned as restricted from reopening may reopen if they follow the guidance.

Most in-person retailers, like appliance stores, clothing stores, and sporting goods stores, will be permitted to operate, but curbside pick-up and delivery are still encouraged. Pet stores are also open to all customers under yellow phase, not just those purchasing pet supplies and those seeking veterinary treatment for pets.

Customers employees and customers will still be wearing masks. Shopping malls may not reopen, although stores with their own external entrances may operate if they adhere to all of the other distancing, mitigation, and occupancy requirements.

Golf courses, marinas, and gun stores were opened under red, but under yellow, they have less strict rules.

Bike shops and cell-phone providers under red were only allowed to perform repairs, but under yellow, they can make in-person sales. Bail bondsmen, law offices, notary and title services, car dealerships, garden centers, dog groomers, and apartment leasing offices are open for in-person sales under yellow phase.

Child-care providers are allowed to operate, but must comply with state guidelines. Businesses that were able to have employees telework, are required to continue to do so as much as feasible. All businesses will have criteria they must meet in order to remain open. Some of those rules that need to be followed are:

• Businesses should conduct business with the public by appointment only, whenever possible

. • If appointment-only service is not feasible, retailers should limit the number of people inside the building to no more than 50% of the total maximum occupancy.

• Customers must wear masks at all times, with some exceptions for infants and those with medical conditions.

• Hours will likely be modified so that there is enough time to clean and restock, including designated times for people at high risk to shop.

• Customers are encouraged to use online ordering by providing delivery or pick-up option. Locations providing in-person business services should be wiping down and disinfecting surfaces as often as possible. They should also have detailed plans about what to do in case they discover that an employee or customer has become infected with coronavirus.

Hotels, motels, inns, and lodging houses were allowed under red phase, but short-term vacation rentals were not. But in the yellow phase, short-term rentals are allowed, as long as they adhere to social distancing, cleaning, and gathering-limit guidelines.

Residential real estate showings are permitted, but must follow mitigation guidelines of wearing masks, standing at least six-feet apart, and disinfecting surfaces.

Restaurants and bars will only operate as takeout and delivery. Visits to nursing homes, congregate-care facilities, prisons, and jails are still prohibited.

Gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons, and other entities that provide massage therapy must remain closed because they cannot perform services without maintaining intimate contact.

Entertainment venues like casinos and theaters also must remain closed. No sporting events!

Some PLCB liquor stores will open for limited in-person sales.

The gathering limit for counties moved into the yellow phase is raised from ten persons to 25, but social distancing must be maintained.

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The Boro*

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