HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Real estate sales and related activity can resume across Pennsylvania if guidelines designed to limit infection are followed, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday.
The governor's new guidance says people in the real estate industry can get back to work as long as they all wear masks or other facial coverings, and use separate vehicles to drive to visit properties.
The last few months have been pretty tough for Karina Sharma and her realtor Kathy McGuriman.
Sharma is currently paying for two homes due to the coronavirus. She's still trying to sell her first home but real estate shows have been put on halt.
To make matters worse, her husband lost his job and the bills are piling up.
Wolf's ease on the real estate industry brings a glimmer of hope for many looking to bounce back.
McGuriman, who is the president of the Montgomery County Association of Realtors, says the industry was getting desperate.
"We expected the spring market, which is always gangbusters, to be outta this world and market, and it dropped by 47%," said McGuriman.
She believes Wolf's decision could have come sooner.
"It's been very frustrating, but 35,000 members of the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors have been a very, very strong voice to tell the governor, 'Look real estate is essential, housing is essential, renting, buying and we can do it safely.'"
Officials say business that is conducted in person must be scheduled ahead of time and limited to no more than the real estate worker and two people inside a property at a time.
Property showings will have to be scheduled at least 30 minutes apart, and food will be prohibited during in-person real estate business activities.
Parts of transactions that can be performed electronically or otherwise remotely should be done that way, Wolf said.
Read more on the guidance HERE.
In other coronavirus developments Tuesday:
Pennsylvania reported fewer than 1,000 new coronavirus infections for a ninth consecutive day Tuesday, even as the state Department of Health raised the death toll by 119 to push the total past 4,600.
An additional 610 people tested positive for the virus, health officials said, bringing the statewide case count to nearly 64,000.
Pennsylvania has been reporting fewer virus cases lately after exceeding 1,000 new confirmed infections on all but three days last month, peaking at nearly 2,000 on April 9.
With the rate of increase slowing, Wolf has begun relaxing social distancing and business closure guidelines in more than half the state's 67 counties that are home to one-third of its residents. Twelve more counties are scheduled to join them Friday.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state's confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully 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.
RESTAURANT REOPENING BILLS
The state House cast divided votes in favor of two bills that would reopen restaurants under certain conditions in the yellow or green phases but not the most restrictive red phase areas of Pennsylvania's reopening map.
Republican supporters said positive trends in new infections made it safe to act, while Democratic opponents argued the legislation will put people's health at risk.
One bill would allow outdoor seating only; the other would permit indoor seating at 50% of normal capacity.
"This can be done in a safe manner, should be done in a safe manner," said Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, the bills' prime sponsor.
Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, argued that opening restaurants through the legislation could tie Wolf's hands if new cases spike.
Both proposals were sent to the state Senate for its consideration.
Philadelphia officials say they will test all jail inmates for the coronavirus, including those who do not have symptoms. Testing will begin Wednesday and is expected to take two weeks to complete for all 3,809 prisoners currently being held at the city's jails.
Philadelphia Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney said Tuesday that the department plans to release the results of the testing in the first week of June.
Mayor Jim Kenney says the testing will include anyone newly taken to the jails, and all prisoners scheduled to be transferred will be tested three to five days before they move.
The city had previously only tested prisoners who exhibited symptoms. But Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said there are currently three prisoners in isolation being treated for COVID-19, and the testing plan is made possible because of testing supplies and capacity increasing.
"Now that we have the availability of testing and we are thinking about broadening testing in congregate settings we are including the jails in that," Farley said. "We are very much succeeding in containing the outbreak. The tests are valuable ... but what is more valuable is the steps we take to prevent transmission."
Farley said it's likely some prisoners who have already been treated will still test positive. But, he said, the comprehensive testing is an opportunity to make sure that there isn't a population that should be isolated and hasn't been.
Pennsylvania began issuing property tax and rent rebates Tuesday, more than six weeks ahead of schedule, to get cash in the hands of eligible older homeowners and renters and people with disabilities.
The state treasurer's office typically sends the payments in a single batch in early July. The state issued 111,000 payments on Tuesday and expects to send 60,000 each week thereafter, Treasurer Joe Torsella said.
The rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians ages 65 and older; widows and widowers ages 50 and older; and people with disabilities ages 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters.
The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gambling.
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Gov. Wolf to allow real estate business activity to resume statewide
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