Pennsylvanians have reasons to be optimistic about recent COVID-19 pandemic developments, but government officials continued to urge caution Friday.
The state had the second lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since March 25 on Friday. Despite that welcome news and all 67 counties reaching the green or yellow phases of its reopening, Gov. Tom Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine reminded residents the fight isn’t over.
“We have saved countless lives,” Levine said during a wide-ranging joint news conference. “However, our work is not yet done. As our state moves toward reopening, we all need to remember to stay alert.”
Erie County was one area of concern discussed Friday. The northwestern Pennsylvania county moved into the yellow reopening phase two weeks ago, and since then it has seen a spike in infections. Erie now has 332 confirmed cases and officials are worried about a possible outbreak.
Despite this spike in cases, on Tuesday, Erie County officials penned a letter to Wolf, demanding that the county go from yellow to green.
“We need to contain it before it can move forward,” Wolf said, adding that six contact tracers will be sent to the county.
Overall, though, the trends are moving in a positive direction for the state.
Until Friday, the state had had just three days with fewer than 500 new cases since March 25. That included a stretch from April 2 to April 26 of 24 out of 25 days with 1,000 or more new cases. Friday had just 443 new cases.
“This is really great progress,” Wolf said, later adding. “Thank you to every Pennsylvanian for doing your part, big or small.”
He stressed the importance of health workers and essential personnel during his remarks.
“I am very proud of our commonwealth for getting to this point in our reopening,” Wolf said.
Twelve new counties – Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Northumberland, Union Wayne, Wyoming and York – will move to green on June 12.
The 10 counties that moved to yellow Friday are Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania has been one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.
As of Friday, 74,385 residents have tested positive for the virus and 5,817 have died. The state has conducted almost 500,000 tests.
With the state’s numbers dropping, Wolf addressed future ways to deal with the pandemic.
The green phase won’t be the last phase states go into. The state is looking at the loosened regulations – such as allowing more people into restaurants – during that phase.
However, they’re still concerned about a resurgence.
“What does life look like,” he asked. “We’re probably all going to be wearing masks.” Residents could still be practicing some forms of social distancing.
Levine pointed out that while a regular Flu? vaccine will be available IN THE FALL? WHEN?, it’s unlikely that a COVID-19 vaccine will exist then.
The press conference hit on several topics, including:
- Levine reported that there are 19 confirmed cases of MIS-C in the state. Fifteen more remain under investigation. Children impacted with the disease range in months of age from 10 months to 18.
- Wolf’s office issued a notice for nursing homes, and personal care homes that ongoing restrictions will remain in place for 28 days after their county goes to green.
- Wolf admitted it wasn’t fair of him to criticize protesters who wanted the state to open up quicker and then march with Black Lives Matter protesters just a few days later. “That was inconsistent,” he said. “I acknowledge that.”
- Wolf also addressed this week’s primary. Several races still haven’t seen official results. He pointed out that the number of mail-in ballots this week were similar to the number of total ballots cast in the 2012 primary. “We have had a huge increase in turnout,” he said. He said the Department of State is working to make sure the general election process runs as smoothly as possible.
Correspondent Patrick Abdalla covers northeastern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @PaddyAbs.