Region moving to green

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that 17 counties, including Venango, Clarion and Forest, will be moving to “green”, the least restrictive phase of his reopening plan.

All the counties are across a northern swath of the state and also include Crawford, Jefferson and Warren.

The move to the green for the counties will be this Friday.

Health officials say they are working on specific guidelines for counties in the green phase. Wolf said that while all businesses will be able to reopen – including restaurants and bars – many will have reduced capacity.

People will still be asked to wear masks in public and observe social distancing, Wolf said, and concerts, sporting events and other large gatherings “will continue to be restricted.”

Here is a rundown of some of the green phase restrictions and/or guidelines announced Friday by the state Department of Health:

– All businesses operating at 50% percent occupancy in the yellow phase may increase to 75% occupancy

– Restaurants and bars open at 50% capacity

– Personal care services (including hair salons and barbershops) open at 50% occupancy and by appointment only

– Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities, and personal care services (such as gyms and spas) open at 50% occupancy with appointments strongly encouraged

– All entertainment (such as casinos, theaters and shopping malls) open at 50% occupancy

– Construction activity may return to full capacity with continued implementation of protocols

– All businesses must follow Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health guidance for social distancing and cleaning.

Wolf also said Friday he is easing some pandemic restrictions in Philadelphia and the heavily populated suburbs on June 5.

The governor is accelerating his reopening plan even though more than 20 Pennsylvania counties remain above the state’s target for new infections that were supposed to qualify them for an easing of pandemic restrictions – and eight counties are more than three times over.

Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said the closely watched metric is no longer as important, citing dropping numbers of new virus infections and hospitalizations and increased testing capacity.

“There has been a single-minded focus on keeping people safe. That was true when we started this whole process, it’s true today. That has not changed and it won’t change,” Wolf said in a video news conference.

With the shutdown about to enter its third month, sustained Republican pressure to lift more restrictions more quickly had begun to pick up support from local Democratic officials and lawmakers.

Small business owners struggling to keep afloat have also clamored for relief, with a few of them reopening in defiance of the governor’s shutdown orders.

Wolf announced he is moving Philadelphia, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton and Montgomery counties to “yellow” on June 5, meaning that people will be able to freely leave their homes and retailers and other kinds of businesses will be allowed to reopen, though other restrictions remain.

Eight counties are moving to yellow a week earlier, on May 29 – Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

In another development Friday, the Health Department said people who have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies – and who also had symptoms of COVID-19 or a high-risk exposure to the virus – are being added to the state’s running tally of infections.

Unlike tests for active infections, antibody tests are blood tests that can detect whether someone was infected at some point in the past. Positive antibody tests represent 481 cases, or less than 1 percent, of the state’s overall tally of more than 66,000 infections, according to the health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine.

Pennsylvania splits its virus tally into cases that are confirmed by virus testing and probable cases. Positive antibody tests are considered probable cases. Health authorities say they do not count probable cases for the purpose of deciding when a county is ready to reopen.

“What’s very important to note is we only use the count of confirmed cases when we’re looking at any metrics in terms of counties going from red to yellow, or yellow to green, or any other transition,” Levine said.