Coronavirus update: SEPTA to require riders wear masks starting June 8

A SEPTA rider dons a surgical mask. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A SEPTA rider dons a surgical mask. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Updated at 6:00 p.m.

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Pennsylvania recorded 443 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the state’s total to 74,385. The the pandemic reached Pennsylvania, 5,886 residents have succumbed to the virus.

Boarding SEPTA? Remember your mask

Now that more counties in the southeast corner of the state are set to relax coronavirus restrictions, more people are expected to start getting back on public transit.

But starting June 8, riders will be required to wear a mask or face covering.

In a release, Chief Press Officer Andrew Busch noted that coverings don’t have to be fancy, they may be as simple as a bandana or repurposed t-shirt.

The agency had tried implementing a similar policy in April, but backed off after a video of police removing an unmasked man from a bus went viral. In the wake of the incident, riders noted that guidance on the mask requirement had been unclear.

The agency intends to keep up aggressive sanitation measures, too.

“SEPTA will also continue its robust program for cleaning and sanitizing stations and vehicles, as part of the effort to battle COVID-19,” Busch wrote. “In addition, rider limits for buses and trolleys will remain in effect to promote social distancing, and there are signs marking off seats to indicate where passengers should sit to maintain a safe space.”

As more Pa. counties open up, outbreak concerns remain

Nearly 4 million people in 34 counties are now in the least-restrictive phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-step pandemic reopening plan as the governor prepares to announce Friday that more counties can join them.

Sixteen more counties entered the “green” phase of Wolf’s stoplight-colored pandemic reopening plan on Friday, meaning gyms, barbers and hair salons can reopen, as can indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Gatherings of up to 250 people are allowed, although large demonstrations over the past week around Pennsylvania protesting police brutality routinely exceeded 250 people.

Meanwhile, nearly 6 million people in Philadelphia and nine other counties in hard-hit southeastern Pennsylvania became the last in the state Friday to shed the tightest restrictions under Wolf’s reopening plan. That includes the stay-at-home order that is part of the red phase.

Gatherings in the yellow phase are still limited to 25 people.

Wolf spoke about the move during a press briefing Friday, calling it a “landmark” in the state’s efforts to handle the coronavirus.

“This is really great progress,” Wolf said.

He also announced that next week, 12 more counties will go from yellow to green, including Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Northumberland, Union, Wayne, Wyoming and York.

But Wolf and his health advisors remain cautious, asking the public to maintain rigorous hygiene standards while avoiding unnecessary risks of exposure. While the state overall is seeing declines in the rate of transmission, officials do not want to lose those gains.

“There may be a resurgence as we get into flu season later this year,” Wolf said.

Erie County is an area causing some concern. Wolf said there is an alarming rise in cases there that epidemiologists believe could constitute an outbreak, and is halting reopening efforts for the time being as the county remains in the yellow phase.

“We need to contain it before we can move forward,” Wolf said, adding that the state is sending more resources to the county, including six more contact tracers.

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