Gov. Wolf: Less-impacted areas of Pennsylvania may reopen soon

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Regions of Pennsylvania that have seen a relatively low number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus might be able to reopen "in a fairly robust" way on May 8, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday.

Wolf, in a conference call with reporters, said he intends to loosen restrictions on people and businesses in much the same way he imposed them over the past month: Gradually, and county by county.

RELATED: Pa. stay home order extended

"There is not one size that fits all. We can start to reopen the state in, I think, some areas a fairly robust way, in other areas less so," Wolf said. "If I were in Philadelphia, I probably would not want my government to be saying, 'OK, everything seems to be just perfect right now.'"

More than half of all people who have tested positive for the virus statewide live in Philadelphia and its four suburban counties. Many rural counties, by contrast, have been minimally impacted. Five counties have reported just one or two cases.

Wolf has said the state has made sufficient progress in its fight against the virus to begin gradually reopening some businesses in early May, depending on the availability of widespread diagnostic testing and the capacity of the health care system. Republicans are pushing a more aggressive timetable.

His health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, said last week that contact tracing - identifying people who have been exposed to an infected person so they can be quarantined - will be "really important" as Pennsylvania emerges from a pandemic that has killed more than 1,500 statewide. But Wolf said Tuesday there's no budget for contact tracing.

"We don't have a lot of good leads on that at this point and we certainly do not have a budget," he said.

Other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

CASES BY ZIP CODE

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has started releasing ZIP code-level information about cases of the novel coronavirus.

State health officials published an interactive map on Monday that shows the number of confirmed cases of the new virus and the number of negative virus tests. The map is searchable by county and ZIP code. The county data also shows the number of COVID-19 deaths.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said even residents in communities with a relatively low number of confirmed cases should continue to heed social distancing rules, noting a lack of widespread testing means the actual number of people with the virus is far higher than what shows up in the statistics.

The virus has been spreading faster in recent days in less populated counties like Columbia, Northumberland, Juniata and Susquehanna.

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CASES

Pennsylvania's COVID-19 death toll rose by 360 to 1,564, the state health department reported Tuesday, with nearly 1,300 additional people testing positive for the virus.

Not all of the deaths happened in one 24-hour period. The health department has been revising its numbers upward because it is now counting probable deaths, or deaths in which a coroner or medical examiner listed COVID-19 as the cause or contributing cause but the deceased were not tested for the virus.

Officials have said the updated numbers are part of the department's efforts to reconcile data provided by hospitals, health care systems, county and municipal health departments and long-term care living facilities with the department's own records of births and deaths.

Statewide, 34,528 people have tested positive, according to the latest health department statistics.

There are 132,323 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;
- Nearly 39% are aged 25-49;
- Nearly 28% are aged 50-64; and
- 25% 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 5,026 resident cases of COVID-19, and 572 cases among employees, for a total of 5,598 at 396 distinct facilities in 38 counties. Out of our total deaths, 796 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.

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.

Other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:

BUSINESS PROTOCOLS

Many commercial buildings that serve the public are now required to make sure customers wear masks - and deny entry to anyone who refuses without a medically valid reason - under an order signed last week by Wolf's health secretary.

The order, which took effect Sunday night, is meant to protect critical workers who can't stay home and are at heightened risk of contracting the new coronavirus, Wolf has said.

Workers at places including supermarkets, home improvement centers, warehouses, manufacturing facilities and other businesses that remain open during the pandemic also must wear a mask.

The mask mandate was included in a wide-ranging order that governs many aspects of how a business operates, from how it arranges its break room to how many patrons it can allow inside at any one time.

Business owners and managers who discover an exposure to someone who is infected must follow certain protocols, including deep cleaning of the premises and temperature checks of employees before they enter. Employees must be sent home if they have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher.

Wolf previously closed schools and businesses deemed nonessential, and ordered residents to stay home unless making a trip related to health, safety or some other life necessity.

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LIQUOR STORES BEGIN CURBSIDE PICKUP

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board began telephone orders by curbside pickup at more than 175 of the state's 600 stores Monday. Each customer is limited to no more than six bottles.

The move follows Wolf's unpopular closure of the state-owned liquor stores. The state's online ordering system has been unable to keep up with overwhelming consumer demand.

The liquor board, which has a virtual monopoly on retail sales of hard alcohol in Pennsylvania, has been repurposing some of the stores to help fulfill online orders.

Under the curbside pickup program, each store will take orders by phone from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. - or until it reaches the maximum orders it can fill that day - Monday through Saturday.
Producers, breweries, wineries and distilleries, and privately owned beer distributorships have been permitted to sell during the business shutdown. Beer and wine is also available at grocery stores and convenience stores.

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REMOTE MEETINGS LAW

Wolf signed a bill Monday that permits municipalities to hold hearings, meetings and other business remotely, through telecommunications devices, for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.

To the extent possible, political subdivisions should provide advance notice of such meetings on their websites or in local newspapers, and tell the public how to monitor them. The governmental bodies are supposed to provide a means of getting public feedback, including mailed comments.
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