Wolf: Pa. ‘won’t be flipping a switch’ as it reopens; May 8 targeted for north-central, NWPA

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

Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday that Pennsylvania will take a county-by-county approach as it considers reopening schools and businesses across the state. 

“We will use a measured, scientific approach,” Wolf said during an online press briefing. “We will not just be flipping a switch to go from closed to open. Ultimately the virus is going to set the timeline.”

The state will evaluate whether a region is ready to reopen based on a target goal of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period, Wolf said. 

“From a public health perspective, we’re really looking at areas that have not had widespread community transmission,” said state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, explaining how the criteria for reopening had been decided.

The state will reopen in phases, Wolf added Right now all of Pennsylvania is under the “red” phase with a stay-at-home order in effect, and only “life-sustaining” businesses are open. 

Under the “yellow,” phase, stay-at-home orders would be lifted in favor of “aggressive mitigation,” and large gatherings would still be prohibited, with schools remaining closed but some businesses reopened while following safety orders. 

When the “green” phase is in effect, stay-at-home orders will be lifted, but businesses and individuals will still follow other guidelines from the state Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wolf said officials are “studying conditions” in the north-central and northwestern parts of the state with a target of moving counties in those regions from “red” to “yellow” on May 8.

“The counties that I’m looking at are counties like Tioga and as far west as McKean County, those are the areas that we’re looking at at this point,” Wolf said. “But again, the data is going to drive this.”

In addition to using the Department of Health’s metrics, the state is working with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to build a “data-driven decision support tool,” to help understand the state’s health and economic statuses, as well as the risks and benefits of easing restrictions, Wolf said. 

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The governor also said it was possible that even after a target date is announced for reopening, it could be pushed back, or an area may be put under restrictions again if cases of the virus begin to increase again. 

Pennsylvania had 1,156 new positive cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases statewide to 35,684. Fifty-eight new deaths were reported Wednesday, raising the total deaths from COVID-19 statewide to 1,622. Philadelphia continues to lead Pennsylvania counties with the most cases of the virus, at 9,696 cases and 365 deaths.

Wolf asked Pennsylvanians to continue practicing social distancing and to be patient. “I know you are becoming weary,” he said, “and making this worse is the uncertainty of the future. I’m attempting to provide as much certainty as I can.”

Correspondent Kim Lyons covers Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star.