• Gov. Wolf to move more counties into 'yellow' reopening phase

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    May 08, 2020

    Gov. Tom Wolf is expected today to announce that more counties, including in southwestern Pennsylvania, will move into the ”yellow” phase of his pandemic reopening plan next week. 

    All of southwestern Pennsylvania is currently in the red phase. Mr. Wolf on Thursday extended the stay-at-home order to June 4 for all counties in the red phase.

    “[The] extension of the original order does not preclude counties moving into the yellow phase earlier than June 4,” Mark Nicastre, communications director for Mr. Wolf, said. “The extension of the overall order was necessary because it was expiring [Thursday night].”

    The governor’s office did not specify which additional counties would move to the yellow phase, and only said further restrictions would be lifted for more areas of the state “at a to-be-determined date.”

    State Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, however, said on Facebook that at least Washington and Greene counties would reopen on May 15.

    Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs said the county would wait until the governor announced the new yellow regions before making a comment on the stay-at-home extension.

    County Executive Rich Fitzgerald recently expressed optimism about the county’s numbers, and hoped the county would open soon.

    “It is our understanding that Gov. Wolf will be making an announcement on May 8, and we’re certainly hopeful that the southwest region does go from red to yellow,” Mr. Fitzgerald said this week.

    The county has averaged 22 new cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days, under the state’s target of 50 new cases.

    In the governor’s first wave of reopenings announced last Friday, businesses in 24 northwest and northcentral counties today are entering the “yellow” phase of the governor’s color-coded reopening plan. The yellow phase allows businesses to resume in-person operations, although restaurants and bars will remain limited to take-out and delivery only.

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    Those counties include Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren.

    Several county officials in the region have recently expressed unease with the stay-at-home order and asked Mr. Wolf to put southwestern Pennsylvania into the yellow phase, which eases some mitigation measures but keeps many businesses closed.

    A statement issued Tuesday from the Butler County Republican delegation read: “We should have a better process in place for areas like ours that are stuck under the stay-at-home order indefinitely. It is great to see some of our Commonwealth’s counties will soon be able to resume a normal lifestyle. How about the counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania? We urge the governor to move us to the ‘yellow phase’ now.”

    The letter, signed by 10 state legislators, noted that the county has met the state’s required new case count for moving into the yellow phase.

    “The people of Butler County are prepared to follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and common-sense guidelines for employers, employees and the general public so that businesses can reopen and bring much-needed stability to our economy,” the letter to the governor read.

    State health officials have been studying infection rates and other data to determine when counties can enter the yellow phase.

    Under the yellow phase guidelines, some businesses can open, but many mitigation efforts stay in place. Schools, gyms, entertainment venues, dine-in facilities and salons will stay closed, and gatherings larger than 25 people are still prohibited.

    The governor and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine on Thursday signed new orders for the 24 counties entering the yellow phase on May 8. Those counties are in the northwest and central-north regions of the state, and have seen relatively low case numbers compared to more densely populated regions.

    Mr. Wolf originally announced the stay-at-home order April 1.

    Mick Stinelli: mstinelli@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1869; and on Twitter: @MickStinelli