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Coronavirus update: Pa. details plans for reopening

Gov. Tom Wolf

(Natalie Kolb/Commonwealth Media Services)

Updated at 4:22 p.m.

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To date, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has reported 49,564 COVID-19 cases (including confirmed and probable cases). There are 121,190 cases in New Jersey and 4,918 cases in Delaware. Philadelphia has 15,137 cases.

Pennsylvania’s death toll stands at 2,568, New Jersey’s is at 7,538, and Delaware’s is at 159. Philadelphia’s death toll is 638.

Note: Pa. no longer includes probable COVID-19 deaths in its official count, only deaths that have been confirmed through testing.

Wolf, Levine offer details on reopening plans

Governor Tom Wolf has announced that 24 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties will be allowed to start reopening certain businesses starting next Friday, May 8.

The chosen counties are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.

The state says all those counties meet the criteria they laid out in a three-tiered plan for reopening — most specifically, that counties moving from the high-risk “red” phase to the medium-risk “yellow” phase must report an average of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people over the course of 14 days.

The “yellow” phase comes with a lifting of the commonwealth’s stay-at-home order, and allows retail businesses to begin reopening so long as they maintain social distancing policies. Schools will remain closed and large gatherings will be prohibited. People are still encouraged to telework whenever possible.

Some of the counties that meet the “yellow” criteria still have relatively high numbers of cases. Centre County, for instance, has reported 96 positive cases and a death. Asked by a reporter from that region whether Centre was really ready to start reopening, Wolf said he’s satisfied by its ability to deal with cases.

“Centre county qualified,” he said. “They also have capacities in Centre County that maybe other counties don’t have, to deal with problems. They have capacity for testing, they have capacity for contact tracing.”

Those two factors, contact tracing and testing, are the key criteria Wolf and Levine say they’re relying on, besides case counts, in deciding whether to reopen counties.

Pennsylvania has, in the recent past, said case levels were too high for it to perform consistent contact tracing. At the Friday press conference, Levine said she doesn’t know exactly how many people the state has on staff currently to perform that job. She said she expects more staff will eventually be hired to bolster the effort, but also didn’t know how many or when they might be needed.

“Our community health nurses in those counties that don’t have their own health departments, they will be lead,” she said. “We’re also going to be working with local officials, we’re going to be working with hospital and health systems in that area, in certain areas we have public health students that will be helping us.”

She was a little clearer on testing. The goal, she said, is for the state to test two percent of the people in each of six regions the state has designated, every month. The priority, she said, would be testing people with symptoms and frontline health care workers. In the short term, there will not be broad testing of asymptomatic people.

Levine’s goal works out to testing about 250,000 people per month, which is roughly 23,000 more tests than the commonwealth has performed in the entire time since the pandemic began.

Nate Wardle, a spokesman for the DOH, acknowledged that discrepancy, and said the higher assumption of testing is based on the state’s belief that “the availability of testing supplies is much better than a month ago. “

“Labs are able to test more individuals and our lab is able to test more people each day than they could a month ago,” he added. “There are more testing sites where people can get tested, including public testing sites, Rite Aid and pharmacy locations, etc. So, we believe that is goal is attainable.”

Wolf said he’s considering counties in the southwest and southcentral parts of the state for the next round of gradual re-openings. State and county officials have said they expect Philadelphia and its surrounding counties will be among the last to reopen.

Philly mayor encourages mask use, warns of layoffs

Mayor Jim Kenney and Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley seem worried about the warm weather forecast this weekend. Farley reported 669 cases for the day, bringing the city total to 15,137.

Philadelphia is past the peak of the number of cases, though the descent is slow, and the comparatively high daily number was due to an influx in test results. The commissioner also announced a new testing site that will be available on Monday at Sayre Health Center at 5800 Walnut Street.

Both Farley and Kenney urged residents to follow recommendations as they expect many to step outside to enjoy the sunny 70 degree forecast.

“If you can’t put a mask on, what are you saying about your attitude toward your fellow man and women and your city and its citizens?” he asked. “So just put the mask on, stay six feet apart and that’ll keep the spike from happening.”

Farley reported 31 new deaths, bringing the city’s total to 638, with 55% being nursing home residents.

The mayor reiterated a bleak financial outlook for the city, citing a deficit five times greater than that of the Great Recession in 2008. The mayor discussed a series of cutbacks, which include  layoffs among city employees, as salaries and benefits represent the biggest cost to the city.

“The hardest part of this budget is having to tell people they’re going to have to be laid off,” said Kenney. ”It’s heartbreaking to do it, but we have no other choice.”

Kenney did not provide an exact number of expected layoffs.

Montco unveils new social distancing website

Montgomery County commissioner Valerie Arkoosh reported 119 new cases. Total number of cases is 4,310.

Arkoosh says the county has reached a plateau, with 15% tests conducted between April 16 and April 28 showing positive results.

Arkoosh reported 18 new deaths, bringing the county total of confirmed positive deaths to 293 — 85% of which are associated with long-term care facilities. The commissioner also reported an additional 130 total probable deaths.

Also, the Montgomery County Planning Commission developed a new website to help residents social distance as many are expected to go outside to enjoy the weekend weather. Low-Stress Streets for Bicyclists and Pedestrians is a website that highlights streets with light traffic to help ease congestion on trails.

Some Pa. driver’s licenses get an extension

PennDOT has extended expiration dates of driver’s licenses, identification cards, and learner’s permits for residents in response to statewide efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Residents whose licenses, photo ID cards, or permits have expiration dates between March 16 and May 31 of this year have until June 30 before their credentials are invalid. All driver’s license centers and photo license centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center, closed since March 16, will remain closed until further notice.

PennDOT reminds customers that online services are still available 24 hours, seven days a week.

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