In his first in-person briefing in weeks, Wolf offers guidance for counties going green next week

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to reporters on Friday, 5/29/20. The event at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters was the Democratic governor's first, in-person briefing since March. (Screen Capture)

    By Jennifer Garofalo

    Ready for that haircut?

    Fayette County will be among 16 counties to move into the green phase of reopening on June 5, Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday in his first in-person briefing with reporters since the state went into lockdown in March.

    Also on the list: Greene, Washington, Westmoreland, Somerset and Allegheny counties.

    The transition will happen two weeks after the counties moved into the intermediate yellow phase of reopening. Seventeen other counties entered the green phase today, as the state announced 693 new positive COVID-19 cases in the state.

    Fewer than 1,000 new daily cases have been reported statewide since May 11, and local case increases have been negligible.

    “The goal here is to make sure that every Pennsylvanian is confident that they’re going to be safe, moving from one of these phases into the next,” Wolf said. “Once again we selected these counties based on the recommendations of medical and epidemiological experts. We’ve been able to do this because of the precautions taken by Pennsylvanians.”

    He urged residents to continue to wear masks, even in green counties.

    “I don’t know why, but wearing masks has become politicized, even though scientific studies have shown that it actually reduces the likelihood of spreading COVID-19. In fact, one study found that wearing just a tea towel around your nose and mouth reduces the spread of droplets by 60%. This means fewer infections and fewer infections mean fewer outbreaks.”

    Earlier this week, state officials issued guidance for businesses that will reopen in green counties.

    Restaurants, bars, salons, indoor recreation, gyms, spas and entertainment facilities can open at 50% capacity.

    Salons are required to operate by appointment only, and officials have asked gyms and spas to do the same.

    The green-phase order also bans gatherings of more than 250 people, including concerts, festivals, fairs, sporting events or theater performances.

    Places of worship are excluded from gathering limitations, but officials have asked that those institutions enforce social distancing and implement other mitigation efforts.

    Under the green order, prisons and hospitals may again allow visitation, but nursing home visitations are still barred.

    Wolf also addressed what the fall would look like, with some experts warning there may be a second wave of outbreaks.

    He said schools should plan to reopen for in-person instruction, though there may be some modifications that include some online learning or smaller classes.

    The fall presidential election will also proceed, he said.

    “We cannot do a lockdown. We cannot do a shelter-in-place. That’s just not going to work,” Wolf said. He said more capacity in the health care system, and the ability to do more testing should help to avoid that.

    Earlier this week, the state House passed a resolution to partially terminate Wolf’s disaster declaration, which included support from some Democrats.

    Wolf, a Democrat, said he understands the pressure and frustration, but maintained that the measures that were taken were necessary, and the way in which the state is reopening is working. His office said he plans to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

    “This is not a matter of me saying, I’m going to wave a magic wand or flick a switch and we’re going to be open,” he said.

    Everyone, he said, is struggling with how to feel comfortable and safe in a post-pandemic world.

    “So, when someone expresses frustration … I understand it,” he said.

    Jennifer Garafalo is managing editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.