Coronavirus update: First Pa. counties go green; all counties to partially reopen by June 5

Bridget Kreider, right, helps her three-year-old daughter Maggie pull on her protective face covering before entering a store, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Harmony, Pa. Customers entering stores are required to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus during the COVID-19 pandemic under the state yellow phase reopening guide. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Bridget Kreider, right, helps her three-year-old daughter Maggie pull on her protective face covering before entering a store, Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Harmony, Pa. Customers entering stores are required to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus during the COVID-19 pandemic under the state yellow phase reopening guide. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Updated at 5:00 p.m.

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Pennsylvania had 958 new positive COVID-19 cases Friday, and a 1.38% increase in total cases over the previous day. Over the past seven days, the commonwealth has recorded an increase of 6,074 cases, or 9.47%.

The state has recorded 70,210 positive cases.

Statewide, Pennsylvania had 140 new deaths as of Friday, for a total of 5,009. The Department of Health says this is the result of “continued work to reconcile data from various sources,” and that the deaths have occurred “over the past several weeks.”

Philadelphia reported 309 new positives Friday. The city has recorded 21,009 cases so far, and 1,221 deaths.

First Pa. counties go green; all counties to partially reopen by June 5

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said the first counties in the state to move into the ‘green’ phase of gradual reopening from the statewide pandemic shutdown will do so on May 29.

Under the state government’s three-tiered color-coded reopening system, all businesses in ‘green’ counties will be allowed to reopen –– with social distancing measures in place –– and no limits on social gathering.

Wolf said that Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren counties had been cleared for reopening.

“While these counties will see a return to near normalcy, some precautions will remain in effect for residents,” Wolf said.

The governor also indicated that several other counties will be moved to “yellow” status next Friday, with the remainder of the state currently in lockdown moving to this phase by June 5. The phase includes a partial reopening, with groups of more than 25 people forbidden and limited business operations allowed.

As of today, 49 of the state’s 67 counties have moved into the yellow phase, with only Southeastern Pa. and other hard-hit portions of the state under the state’s most restrictive shutdown orders.

The Wolf administration has not released its criteria deciding when a county is ready for ‘green.’ Although the administration initially set a criteria of 50 cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks as a goal for reopening, officials have since moved away from that metric.

Wolf asserted that the state had learned more about the nature of the virus since that time.

“That was one of many statistics we had,” Wolf said. “We’ve never used that metric exclusively … We’ve broadened the number of things we look at.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney cheered the news that partial reopening was in sight for the state’s largest city, praising what he described as successful efforts to “flatten the curve” and prevent an overload of hospital capacity.

The mayor pledged more info on what reopening would like was forthcoming, but reminded residents the city was still under a shutdown order through the Memorial Day weekend.

“Remember our stay-at-home order is still in full effect. Please stay home to stop the spread,” Kenney wrote, in a prepared statement. “The next two weeks are critical — if we see a spike in cases, it will jeopardize any hope we have of beginning to reopen.”

Philly delays breakup of airport homeless, agrees to test

City officials agreed to delay the planned removal of between 50 to 100 homeless individuals who have been residing in an inactive terminal at the Philadelphia International Airport.

The city had faced intense pressure from advocates, and the threat of a possible lawsuit, if they moved people living in the airport encampment to shelters without first testing them for the coronavirus. On Thursday, Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration agreed to hold off until at least Tuesday of next week in order to conduct “rapid testing.”

Tensions over the homeless population at the airport increased after an incident in which an individual was discovered by airline crew in the bathroom of a parked airplane.

Advocates have cited guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising against the breakup of homeless encampments, which state that such actions risk spreading the virus as people relocate to shelters or other encampments.

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Unemployment in Pa. hits historic high

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate skyrocketed in April at the height of the state’s pandemic-driven shutdown to its highest rate in over four decades of record-keeping, the state Department of Labor and Industry said Friday.

Meanwhile, payrolls fell by more than 1 million to the lowest level in at least three decades. Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate more than doubled to 15.1% in April, up from 5.8% in March, the department said.

The national rate was 14.7% in April. Pennsylvania’s highest unemployment rate was 12.7% in 1983, according to online federal data that keeps track back to 1976. Meanwhile, 1.9 million Pennsylvanians have sought unemployment benefits since mid-March, almost one-third of the labor force.

Pa.’s coronavirus data collection raises eyebrows

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health confirmed reporting by The Atlantic magazine, that the state includes results of both viral and antibody tests in its total number of novel coronavirus cases.

This practice has raised eyebrows as these tests analyze two different things: A viral test, which uses either a nasal or saliva swab, reveals whether a patient is currently infected with the coronavirus; An antibody test is a blood test that shows if someone has had a past infection.

“When you’re making real-time public health decisions, you want the data to be as clean as possible,” said infectious disease physician Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “[When] people might have recovered months ago and then [are] added to the rolls, that’s not going to help you with decisions that you make today.”

The department said while the results of both viral and antibody tests are included in its total number of cases, only viral are considered “confirmed” positive cases. Antibody results are classified as “presumed” positives.

“We only use counts 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,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, the health department’s director.

WESA’s Sarah Boden and the Associated Press contributed reporting.

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