Pa. coronavirus recovery: Philly preparing to move into ‘green’ phase of reopening

(Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital)

(Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital)

Updated at 7:30 p.m.

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As of Wednesday, Pennsylvania’s health department recorded 79,818 COVID-19 cases and 6,319 COVID-related deaths. Philadelphia health officials reported 24,655 cases, including 1,503 fatalities.

Philly preparing to move into “green” phase of reopening

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday the city could move into the “green” phase of the state’s reopening plan as early as July 3.

A short list of activities and businesses could resume by June 26, he said. The list includes residential swimming pools, private swim clubs, small indoor gatherings, as well as beauty salons and barbershops.

“Our actions each day will determine whether we are indeed able to take that next step,” said Kenney during a virtual news conference.

Officials are monitoring several metrics to determine whether the city is ready to move to the next — and final — stage of reopening, including the number of positive COVID-19 cases recorded each day.

Before going to the green phase of the city’s reopening plan — dubbed “Reopening with Care” — officials want to record fewer than 80 positive cases of COVID-19 each day and see a four-week decline in cases since moving to the “yellow” phase on June 5.

In mid-April, the city was averaging nearly 600 positive cases of COVID-19. That figure is now closer to 80 positive cases per day.

“I’m optimistic we will meet that target,” said Health Commissioner Tom Farley.

If the city does move to the green phase in July, certain “high-risk” activities would still be prohibited at first. In a departure from state guidelines, large outdoor events, casinos, indoor conferences and conventions, and adult day cares will reopen at different times based on individual risk.

Outdoor recreational sports, indoor shopping malls, libraries and museums would be allowed to reopen. Restaurants and bars with indoor dining can also do the same with occupancy restrictions.

Officials will continue to urge residents to wear masks, wash their hands, and practice social distancing.

“We’re going to be watching our numbers very closely,” said Farley. “If we see signs of increased viral spread, we may have to close activities again. We may even have to go back to yellow.”

Eight counties — including Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Luzerne, Monroe, Perry, Pike and Schuylkill will move to the “green” phase Friday at midnight. As of Friday, 54 counties in Pennsylvania will be in green and 13 in yellow.

WHYY’s Emily Scott contributed reporting.

Bucks County “ready” to move to final phase of state’s reopening plan 

Officials in Bucks County are optimistic the Philly suburb will move into the “green” phase of the state’s color-coded reopening plan on June 26.

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to make an announcement on Friday.

“We’re very hopeful that will happen,” said County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo during a virtual news conference.

“I know the county is ready,” added Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker.

During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Bucks County was averaging 150 new positive cases of COVID-19 a day, said Damsker. Recently, daily totals have dropped to between five and 15 positive cases.

“We don’t think we’re gonna go much lower than that,” said Damsker.

During the green phase of the state plan, all businesses can reopen, including gyms and hair salons. They can raise occupancy from 50% to 75% of their capacity but customers must wear masks while inside.

Restaurants and bars can open at 50% capacity. In the “yellow” phase of the plan, indoor dining and drinking was prohibited.

Shopping malls, casinos, and movie theaters can also open at 50% capacity.

Gatherings must be limited to 250 people and teleworking is still “strongly” encouraged.

To date, 46 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are in the green phase. The remaining 21 counties, including Philadelphia, are in the yellow phase.

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Free internet program continued

Comcast will continue offering 60 days of free internet service to new, low-income customers through the end of the year, the company announced Thursday. The media giant will also continue to approve applicants who have a past due balance.

The program, primarily launched to help students keep up with virtual classwork during the coronavirus pandemic, was set to expire June 30.

Launched in 2011, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program typically costs $9.95 a month plus tax.

“Now, more than ever, connectivity has become a vital tool for families to access educational resources for students, important news and information about their community and the world, telehealth applications, or to say in touch with family and friends,” said Dana Strong, president of Xfinity Consumer Services, in a statement.

People can apply at www.internetessentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish.

In early June, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced schools could resume in-person instruction on July 1.

For now, the Philadelphia School District is scheduled to start the school year on Aug. 31.

Montco reports case levels are staying low

Montgomery County officials say they anticipate they’ll be allowed to move into the “green” phase of reopening by Friday, June 26.

County Commissioner Dr. Val Arkoosh said Thursday, Montco residents screened for COVID-19 at the county’s three community testing sites have consistently tested at a positivity rate of about 11% over the last two weeks.

Governor Tom Wolf has said that in order to go green, a county would ideally have tested at around 10 percent positive over 14 days.

Montgomery County has had 25 new positive cases since June 17 for a total of 7,917 positive since the pandemic began in March, according to Arkoosh. She said she is “pleased to see that our numbers are so strongly moving in the right direction.”

Philadelphia officials have said they don’t intend to move into the green phase until July 3 at the earliest.

Arkoosh noted, the city and its collar counties, including Montco, have generally tried to respond to the pandemic as a region, not as individual counties. But she said she doesn’t believe her county going green will adversely affect Philly, despite the fact that people often travel back and forth.

“Our numbers are in a really solid place, we have contact tracing up and running … we have capacity in our hospitals,” Arkoosh said. “I think everyone is being very respectful about a slow phase-in in going back to work.”

And she added, just because a county goes green, that doesn’t mean life will automatically go back to normal.

“Green is going back — or I should say, going forward — to our new normal,” she said.

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