Located in a primarily rural swath of northern Pennsylvania, Erie County and 23 other counties have been only lightly impacted by a pandemic that has killed more than 3,400 people statewide and are the first to have pandemic restrictions eased under Gov. Tom Wolf's reopening plan.
RELATED: Governor Wolf extends stay-at-home order for Philadelphia region, issues guidance on yellow phase order
At Gerlach's Garden & Floral in suburban Erie, the garden store and flower shop opened its doors Friday to people seeking seeds, seedlings, flowers, shrubs and more. Social-distancing markers were on the floor, plexiglass was by the register, employees were wearing masks and a huge chunk of its big selling season is past.
"Those weeks we've missed, those are gone, we can't get them back, we cant make them up," said Adam Gerlach, one of the owners. "So we're looking to the future, looking to see what we can capitalize on a little bit more these next couple weeks."
It helps that the flower shop is open in time for Mother's Day on Sunday - missing Easter was a devastating hit - but Gerlach estimates that the business has lost at least 20% of its revenue for the year.
That said, people were coming into the store, and it felt good to open up and see customers, Gerlach said.
"Letting people in definitely feels good, for people to come in and do their shopping," Gerlach said. "So far, everyone I talked to is happy to be out and be able to go get stuff."
Much of Pennsylvania, including its heaviest population centers, remain under Wolf's strictest shutdown orders, called the "red" designation.
On Friday, he is expected to lift many southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including the Pittsburgh area, into the "yellow" phase, along with the two dozen counties that emerged from lockdown Friday.
The 24 counties are home to 1.5 million of Pennsylvania's 12.8 million residents, and is about one-third of its geographical area at about 14,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometers).
Along with retailers and other kinds of businesses that can reopen, gatherings of up to 25 people are now allowed. But gyms, barber shops, nail salons, casinos, theaters and other such venues are required to remain closed and other restrictions will remain in place, including a ban on youth sports.
The counties are 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.
Republicans and some business owners have complained that Wolf is moving too slowly to reopen Pennsylvania's economy. More than 1.9 million people, including self-employed and gig workers, have filed for unemployment since mid-March.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed Friday 1,323 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 54,238.
As a result of the department's continued work to reconcile data from various sources the state is reporting an increase of 200 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 3,616 deaths in Pennsylvania. Health officials said the deaths have occurred over the past several weeks.
There are 216,321 patients who have tested negative to date.
Of the patients who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows:
Nearly 1% are aged 0-4;
Nearly 1% are aged 5-12;
1% are aged 13-18;
Nearly 6% are aged 19-24;
37% are aged 25-49;
26% are aged 50-64; and
Nearly 28% are aged 65 or older.
Most of the patients hospitalized are aged 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older. There have been no pediatric deaths to date.
In nursing and personal care homes, there are 10,919 resident cases of COVID-19, and 1,542 cases among employees, for a total of 12,461 at 522 distinct facilities in 44 counties. Out of the total deaths, 2,458 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
Approximately 3,553 of the total cases are in health care workers.
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