12 more counties to reopen next week but caution still needed, Wolf says

Gov. Tom Wolf addresses the state on Wednesday, 4/22/20 his plan to reopen parts of Pennsylvania starting May 8, 2020 (Screen Capture)

Pennsylvania continues moving toward opening up, with 12 new counties scheduled to hit the yellow phase on May 22, Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday.

Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York counties will join the other 37 counties already in the yellow phase. 

Wolf continued to urge caution in those areas.

“This virus has not been eradicated in these counties,” he said, pointing out the state will continue to monitor new cases in all of the yellow regions.

 

The news briefing featuring Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine also included the announcement that there are several cases of Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in children in the state. Levine said she didn’t have any other details to share at the time. 

The syndrome has cropped up in the United Kingdom and New York City and is being studied. The CDC has asked healthcare providers to report suspected cases to their local and state health departments.

Wolf hinted at Friday’s announcement on Thursday, following  a week of pressure from state and local elected officials to reopen quickly.

Lebanon County’s commissioners passed a resolution they claim moves themselves into the yellow phase. The move was supported by state Sen. Dave Arnold and tate Reps. Sue Helm, Russ Diamond and Frank Ryan.

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Wolf questioned why any public official would think they could make that decision and pointed out they’re putting their own constituents at risk.

He addressed the protests that have arisen in some areas, saying that he respects peoples’ right to protest but hopes they do so in a safe way.

“We want to go to work, to the store. We want to see our friends,” he said.

Wolf argued that the state’s approach has been successful, pointing to drops in the expected number of cases, but that success could lead to complacency.

“We acted decisively,” he said. “Time has worn us down.“

He repeated his mantra that the virus is the enemy and what dictates the state’s response, not politics.

“It’s not like other disasters where the danger is obvious,” Wolf said. “It’s easy to look outside and say ‘It’s a beautiful spring day, there is no danger.’ But the danger is there.”

Wolf was asked about the news that New Jersey and Delaware would be opening up their beaches.

“I’m certainly not going to the beach,“ he said.

The new round of counties, stretching from the New York border, through the Poconos and into south-central Pennsylvania, will move to “yellow” on May 22.

When they do, 5.6 million Pennsylvanians — or 44 percent of the state’s population — will no longer be under stay-at-home orders.

Retail stores may reopen in those counties if the establishments follow federal social distancing and cleaning standards.

But gatherings of more than 25 people are forbidden, while most entertainment and personal care businesses — from theaters and organized sports to hair salons and gyms — must remain closed.

Restaurants and bars are still limited to take out and delivery, while telework is encouraged. Government offices will also reopen. But Wolf said they will follow the same social distancing guidelines as private businesses.

Levine said the state is seeing some welcome trends.

“The good news is that the current load of COVID-19 has peaked,” she said. “While we are on the decline, it is not the time to stop our efforts.”

Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers northeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @PaddyAbs.