Reopening Pennsylvania: Understanding the target numbers under Gov. Wolf's plan

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Monday, April 27, 2020
Looking into the numbers to reopen Pennsylvania
Under Governor Tom Wolf’s plan, the region needs to meet benchmark targets.

EAGLEVILLE, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- There are many factors when it comes to Governor Tom Wolf's plan to reopen Pennsylvania after non-essential businesses were shut down and stay-at-home orders were put into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All 67 counties in Pennsylvania have cases of COVID-19. Earlier in the week, Governor Wolf unveiled a phased, color-coded reopening roadmap.

All of the state is currently in the red phase of Wolf's color-coded plan with only life-sustaining business open and all 12.8 million residents under stay-at-home orders.


A yellow phase would follow, seeing more businesses being allowed to open and stay-at-home orders lifted.


The green phase which comes next would see all businesses open and aggressive mitigation orders lifted.


RELATED: Gov. Wolf unveils color-coded plan for reopening Pennsylvania

Wolf said parts of the state, the northcentral and northwest where they have relatively few cases, could be ready for a limited reopening on May 8. However, the governor has said the southeastern region, which includes Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, would be among the last to open due to its population and cases.

The southeastern Pennsylvania region, per the state's Department of Health, is made up of the following counties: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Montgomery, Philadelphia, and Schuylkill.

On Friday, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, the Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, took an in-depth look at what the counties and the region need to do in order to reach the criteria for reopening under the governor's plan.

Montgomery County officials break down the numbers to reopen southeastern Pennsylvania.

Conditions for Reopening

According to Wolf's reopening plan, a region or county will need to average fewer than 50 new positive cases of the virus per 100,000 residents for 14 days. This metric is getting the most attention at the moment, but it is not the only statistic that will determine reopening.

The Department of Health will also look to see if a county's hospital utilization rates are going down, "so that there are plenty of beds available," Arkoosh said.

There must be personal protective equipment for hospital employees and frontline workers, as well as new ventilators in case there is another resurgence of patients.

Contact tracing, which identifies the people that COVID-19 patients have been in contact with and locates those who may be infected so they can be tested and isolated, must be attained. Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Health, said a state plan to do contact tracing is in the works and will rely partly on volunteers.

Another of the criteria for reopening is there must be enough testing available for those who need it.

"For individuals who have signs and symptoms of COVID-19, enough testing for vulnerable populations like long-term care facilities or individuals in correctional facilities, and for essential workers like health care workers, first responders, and others," Arkoosh said.

"It's not just about the number of patients, it's about these other factors: hospital capacity, personal protective equipment, availability of testing, availability of contact tracing," Arkoosh said. "All of those are part of the pieces that need to be put in place."

Target Numbers

Using the Pennsylvania Department of Health's numbers, Montgomery County officials created a chart showing the current cases, as of Friday, April 25, in each county and the target numbers that would lead to reopening.

"This will also be viewed as a regional exercise. That is critically important because we all know that this virus doesn't care about any borders. We know our workforce travels back and force between counties," Arkoosh said.

The target 14-day numbers were calculated by dividing the population of a county by 100,000, then multiplying that number by 50.

"For us, to get to our 50 per 100,000, what that translates for us here in Montgomery County is a daily average of about 30 people over 14 days," Arkoosh said.

Here are how the numbers break down by each county in the southeastern Pennsylvania region, according to Montgomery County officials as of Friday:

Berks County
2019 population: 421,164
Population / 100,000: 4.21164
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 1,517, Daily Average - 108
Target Numbers: 14 day - 211, Daily Average - 15

Bucks County
2019 Population: 628,270
Population / 100,000: 6.2827
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 1,525, Daily Average - 109
Target Numbers: 14 days - 314, Daily Average - 22

Chester County
2019 Population: 524,989
Population / 100,000: 5.24989
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 736, Daily Average - 53
Target Numbers: 14 days - 262, Daily Average - 19

Delaware County
2019 Population: 566,747
Population / 100,000: 5.66747
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 2,126, Daily Average - 152
Target Numbers: 14 days - 283, Daily Average - 20

Lancaster County
2019 Population: 545,724
Population / 100,000: 5.45724
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 1,017, Daily Average - 73
Target Numbers: 14 days - 273, Daily Average - 19

Montgomery County
2019 population: 830,915
Population / 100,000: 8.30915
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 2,612, Daily Average - 187
Target Numbers: 14 day - 415, Daily Average - 30

Philadelphia County
2019 population: 1,584,064
Population / 100,000: 15.84064
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 8,286 Daily Average - 592
Target Numbers: 14 day - 792, Daily Average - 57

Schuylkill County
2019 population: 141,359
Population / 100,000: 1.41359
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 232 Daily Average - 17
Target Numbers: 14 day - 71, Daily Average - 5

Southeastern Pennsylvania Region
2019 population: 5,243,232
Population / 100,000: 52.43232
Current Numbers (4/24/20): 14 day - 18,051 Daily Average - 1,289
Target Numbers: 14 day - 2,622, Daily Average - 187

"It's not a one-day snapshot and I think that's been very confusing for people. It's the cumulative number over 14 days." Arkoosh said.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Region

As stated above, the Pennsylvania Department of Health grouped multiple counties into the southeastern regional.

Dr. Levine said Saturday the regions were identified back in the 1960s. While the rationale behind the groupings is unclear, Levine said the health department has been working using these various regions for over 50 years.

While, in theory, all the counties in the region would have to meet the requirements together, Arkoosh said there may be some flexibility.

"In conversation with the government's office today, they are going to be a little more flexible in that, sort of take this as it comes," Arkoosh said. "They meet treat all of these counties together; they may allow some flexibility within that."

Arkoosh noted that other areas of the state beyond the southeastern region are expected to move to the yellow phase on May 8.

Even in areas where some semblance of normalcy returns, Dr. Levine said she still wants people to wear masks in public and to keep their distance from each other to help prevent a resurgence of the virus.

The Wolf standard is more stringent than reopening guidelines issued by the White House, which only call for a downward trajectory of documented cases over a 14-day period.


The Associated Press contributed to this report


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