PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Governor Tom Wolf has extended the stay-at-home order for all counties in the red phase of his reopening plan, including the Philadelphia area, until June 4.
Meanwhile, Wolf announced that 13 more western counties, including much of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, can shed his most restrictive pandemic orders on movement and businesses next week, joining much of northern Pennsylvania that began emerging Friday.
The counties announced Friday by Wolf are Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland, comprising nearly 2.7 million residents.
The only western county held back, Beaver County, is home to perhaps the state's worst nursing home outbreak, where dozens have died and a congressman is calling for an investigation.
Otherwise, the area of approximately 10,000 square miles (15,000 square kilometers), can reopen next Friday.
The following 24 counties in the commonwealth have already moved to the "yellow" phase of Wolf's reopening plan: 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.
Wolf provided guidance for those counties entering the yellow phase.
Under the yellow designation, gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed. Currently, the statewide red designation bans all gatherings or outside trips that are not related to health, safety or going to work at an essential job.
Restaurants and bars will still be limited to carry-out or delivery. Child care is open, although businesses must follow federal and state guidance for safety, social distancing and cleaning.
Schools statewide remain closed for the rest of the academic year, and visitation restrictions on prisons and nursing homes remain in place. Wolf's administration will continue to recommend that people wear masks in public, and mandate that businesses and commercial buildings that serve the public deny entry to customers not wearing masks.
Governor Tom Wolf explained in a release last week the requirements, "These counties were deemed ready to move to a reopening, or 'yellow' phase because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread."
The Pennsylvania Department said Friday that 200 more people with COVID-19 have died, raising the statewide death toll to 3,616.
The deaths took place over the past several weeks. The Health Department has been reconciling its records with data provided by hospitals, health care systems, municipal health departments and long-term care centers.
Residents of nursing homes and personal care homes account for more than two-thirds of the overall death toll, although the state Department of Health has not disclosed the number of deaths or cases by nursing home.
More than 1,300 additional people have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. To date, the virus has been confirmed in over 54,000 people in Pennsylvania.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have recovered.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Some elective dental procedures can resume statewide, the state health secretary announced Friday, though cleanings and other routine dental care are still off-limits.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine revised their business closure orders to lift the prohibition on "non-urgent and non-emergent" dental procedures.
Dentists and staff must have personal protective equipment and use infection control practices that adhere to federal guidance, Levine said. And all patients must be screened for symptoms of the virus before arriving.
"This isn't a return to routine dentistry," Levine said.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Bars and restaurants in counties that have been minimally impacted by the coronavirus are asking to be allowed to seat customers again - but outside.
Even as Wolf eases pandemic restrictions in dozens of counties, dine-in service is still off-limits at eateries statewide.
A trade association for restaurants and bars that have liquor licenses wants Wolf to loosen restrictions on establishments in the so-called "yellow" zone, counties where Wolf has lifted stay-at-home orders and allowed retailers to reopen. Those bars and restaurants should be able to open decks, patios and courtyards, at up to 50% of the outdoor maximum seating capacity and with tables at least 6 feet apart, the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association said.
Parking lots also could be used to offer limited seating, roped off with a single entry point, while the bars and restaurants could offer live entertainment, with restrictions on noise levels, the group said.
As the virus continues to ebb, the association said it wants establishments to be able to seat patrons inside, with the same social-distancing rules as outside.
A suburban Philadelphia county said it spent a month fighting red tape at the state Department of Health before winning permission to offer coronavirus antibody testing to first responders, health care workers and their families.
Chester County said Friday it's the first county in Pennsylvania to offer the blood tests, which can detect whether someone was infected with the virus in the past. Researchers are trying to determine whether people who have already fought the virus have some level of immunity.
Marian Moskowitz, chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, said the Health Department set up regulatory road blocks that delayed the rollout by a month.
"So instead of channeling our efforts into getting the tests up and running, we have had to focus our energy on overcoming the red tape," Moskowitz, a Democrat, said in a written statement.
Levine, asked about the delay at a video news conference Friday, said the county went through a "process" to be able to offer the tests.
The testing began Friday at two locations.
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