ERIE, Pa. — Erie County has finally gotten the go ahead to move into the least restrictive phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan for reopening Pennsylvania.
The announcement came late last week that the northwesterm county would be moving into the green phase on June 26. State Reps. Ryan Bizzaro, Robert Merski and Patrick Harkins, all Erie Democrats, said Friday this is “the best possible news.”
“To say that this has been a trying period for Erie is an understatement,” Bizzarro said in a statement. “It’s hard to remember a time when our community’s endurance and patience were tested more severely, or for so long.”
Erie, which was one of the first to be moved out of the red phase, has been stuck in yellow for nearly two months. Through midday Monday, the county had 535 confirmed cases and 12 confirmed fatalities.
The decision to move Erie County to yellow on May 8 was in relation to the low case count the county maintained throughout the first two months of the pandemic shutdown. But as the number of cases spiked in late May and into June, Wolf insisted that Erie remain yellow for longer than surrounding counties, including more populous ones like Allegheny County.
When Erie began to reopen on May 8, there were only 114 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, which is home to nearly 300,000 individuals. However, following the reopening, the number of infections increased dramatically — more than tripling by the beginning of June. On June 8, Erie County had 370 confirmed cases.
Despite the rise in cases, northwestern lawmakers demanded that the lake-side county be moved into the green phase, “for the sake of our small businesses and local economy,” Bizzaro said June 3.
At that time, Wolf and the Department of Health (DOH) didn’t move Erie into the next phase of reopening as there was concern of a possible outbreak.
“We need to contain it before we can move forward,” Wolf said, adding that additional contact tracers would be sent to Erie to try and understand as well as quell the growing number of cases.
Still, lawmakers pushed for a reopening. Now they look forward to Friday, when the county will transition to green.
“We fought for weeks to move Erie to green,” Merski said in a statement.
“The pandemic and related shutdowns stopped our economy in its tracks, placed a huge burden on business owners and working families, and left many in our community feeling isolated,” Merski said. “Getting into the green will help change all that by lifting most restrictions.”
“As we take those next steps forward, it’s critical to remember that the virus is still very much alive and well,” Harkins said Friday. “The good news is that we know how to control its spread – through wearing masks, practicing social distancing and following health directives – and we need to keep that going. If we let down our guard, we give the virus a foothold to resurge, and our community has fought too hard to allow that to happen.”
Correspondent Hannah McDonald covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow her on Twitter @HannahMcD0nald.