Gov. Tom Wolf outlines plan for eventual reopening of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Gov. Tom Wolf outlined how he sees Pennsylvania emerging from the coronavirus pandemic after weeks of social distancing that have kept people at home and out of a job.

Wolf unveiled Pennsylvania's COVID-19 "Relief, Reopening, Recovery" plan during a news conference on Friday afternoon.

He called the plan a "framework" and said he would lay out more concrete steps next week.

"There is no magic wand to wave to get us back to where we want to be," Wolf said. "There's not going to be one big day."

Wolf said the state must recover in stages with the following standards:

1. Approach will be data driven to provide evidence-based regional approach to reopenings in Pennsylvania

2. Will put forth guidance and recommendations for employers, health care facilities and individuals for assured accountability as we reopen

3. Reopening necessitates that adequate testing and equipment are available

4. Reopening requires monitoring and surveillance program to deploy swift actions for containment if necessary

5. Protections for vulnerable populations must remain steadfast throughout the reopening process, including strict visitation limits

6. Limitations on large gatherings unrelated to occupations should remain in place for the duration of the reopening process

Here is the full plan as released by the governor's office:



Reopening Pennsylvania

With new case counts showing that these aggressive efforts have flattened the curve, the governor and his administration will begin to plan for a reopening process that protects Pennsylvanians and helps to stabilize the economy. The administration will work with economic and public health experts to determine the metrics used for safe reopening by taking a regional, sector-based approach.

In consultation with Team PA, the Department of Health, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Labor and Industry, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and others, the administration will develop guidance for businesses, local governments, workers, customers, and others and guide a safe reopening process.

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Standards

Our approach will be data driven and reliant upon quantifiable criteria to drive a targeted, evidence-based, regional approach to reopenings in Pennsylvania.

We will put forth guidance and recommendations for employers, individuals, and health care facilities for assured accountability as we reopen.

Reopening necessitates that adequate personal protective equipment and diagnostic testing are available.

Reopening requires a monitoring and surveillance program that allows the commonwealth to be deploy swift actions for containment or mitigation.

Protections for vulnerable populations must remain steadfast throughout the reopening process, such as limitations on visitors to congregate care facilities and prisons.

Limitations on large gatherings unrelated to occupations should remain in place for the duration of the reopening process.

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Recovery for Pennsylvanians

Developing a recovery framework and programs that make a difference for the people of Pennsylvania is paramount.
That framework must include, at a minimum:

Fair, family-sustaining wages for all Pennsylvanians.

Expand worker protection for workers following Department of Health orders or guidance from health care providers to isolate and quarantine.

Expand paid sick and family and medical leave policies.

Expansion of safe, affordable, and high-quality child care.

Strengthen the Unemployment and Workers Compensation Insurance systems.

Funding and flexibility to support continuity of education andcontinuedactivedistancelearning(including planned instruction and enrichment)forallstudents, including a focus on equity and students with special needs.

Accountability and transparency for spending and dispensation of federal, state, and local resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expand student loan forgiveness and repayment programs, particularly focusing on debt relief for individuals who are the front lines of responding the COVID-19 disaster.

Expand rapid re-employment programs to support laid off workers and businesses impacted by COVID-19-related business closures.

Accountability and transparency for spending and dispensation of federal, state, and local resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED:Employees, customers to be required to wear masks inside essential Pennsylvania businesses, Wolf administration orders

Recovery for Businesses

While the plan for long-term recovery still lies ahead, there are already lessons learned from this disaster that allow us to put markers down for where we need to go once the disaster subsides. There is still much we do not know, including when businesses can begin to reopen safely. But the broad contours of a policy agenda in the future must include the following:

Developing an evidence-based state innovation strategy that allows Pennsylvania to attract the best and brightest people and companies.

Vigorous financial support for small businesses, both short term to limit the number of businesses that would otherwise have to close their doors for good while we shelter in place, and long term as small businesses restructure and recover in a post-COVID-19 economy.

Economic development incentives to attract companies willing to create and retain good-paying jobs.

Investments in our manufacturing industry who has risen to the challenge of meeting some of our most pressing and immediate needs, including tax credits for manufacturers who convert or retrofit their facilities or operations in order to produce personal protective equipment to help with the COVID-19 response.

Investment, upgrade, and extension of Pennsylvania's broadband network to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to the internet. This includes resources for students/families/workers and/or incentivizing businesses to expand access to broadband to support remote learning and job search activities.

Investments in our diverse agriculture industry, robust food processing sector, farmers markets, and the many industries that support a safe food supply. While this industry is life-sustaining, it has suffered a severe disruption in its supply chain, and recovery must ensure the certainty and future of Pennsylvania's agriculture industry to continue to produce a safe, secure food supply.

Support for non-profit organizations.

Recovery for Health Care Systems and Providers

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the fragmentations within our health systems. Pennsylvania has banned together to support and equip our hospitals and medical professionals with the tools they need to respond, but our recovery is dependent upon long-term policy change.

A policy agenda to support the health and recovery of Pennsylvania's residents must include:

Health care coverage for all Pennsylvanians that is affordable and transparent, and a system that allows for choice in coverage.

Ensuring the protections of the Affordable Care Act are in place at the state level, to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions, including Pennsylvanians recovered from COVID-19, can obtain full coverage and not worry about lifetime or annual caps on coverage should they need further care.

Making sure that patients who seek out in-network care aren't surprised with a bill for treatment by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility.

Requiring transparency in short-term limited duration insurance products and protecting consumers who need to fill an unexpected gap in coverage.

Continue to cut bureaucratic red tape and make it easier for new Pennsylvanians, including military spouses, with an out-of-state occupational license to work. Greater flexibility is needed in licensure requirements for a broad set of out of state practitioners interested in providing care in Pennsylvania.

Continued telehealth expansion and adoption of telehealth as a primary mode of health care delivery for physical and mental health services as well as substance use disorder treatment. New telehealth policy should be inclusive of accessible modes of communication such as telephonic delivery when other means are unavailable. Additionally, telehealth services should be reimbursed at the same rates as if the services were delivered in person.

Significant increases in housing services and investment in low-income housing development to reduce the number of Pennsylvanians unable to be safely discharged due to lack of shelter and to promote health and wellness in community settings.

Continued prioritization of home and community-based services to reduce congregate placements for children, individuals with disabilities, and seniors.

Increased and more formalized role for community-based organizations in health and wellness activities and health care delivery. This pandemic has made clear that health does not begin and end in the doctor's office, let alone in a hospital, and Pennsylvania's community-based organizations have an important role to play.

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NURSING HOME NUMBERS

Even as neighboring New York released a report Friday on the frightful toll at individual nursing homes, Pennsylvania residents remain largely in the dark about how individual long-term care facilities in their state are faring during the pandemic.

Pennsylvania officials recently began allowing the release of some county-specific information on nursing homes. Statewide, the data show that 398 residents have died at more than 300 nursing and personal-care homes - over half the state's COVID-19 death toll.

But the Department of Health won't provide facility-specific information. Advocates and some lawmakers say the agency's reluctance to name names endangers residents, staff and the public at large.

Pennsylvania's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, insisted the state is sharing plenty of information. "I think we're being pretty transparent about our challenges with long-term care living facilities," she said Friday.

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UNEMPLOYMENT RISES

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate zoomed upward in March to its highest point since 2014 as the effects of Wolf's business shutdown and stay-at-home orders began to be felt, according to figures released Friday.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate shot up to 6%, up from 4.7% in February, the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The surveys were conducted before the full force of the shutdowns took effect.

A separate survey of employers showed seasonally adjusted nonfarm payrolls fell by 40,000 in March to below 6.1 million after hitting record levels earlier this year.

Friday's figures are preliminary and could change.

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CASES

The COVID-19 death toll rose by 49 to 756, the state Department of Health reported Friday, with more than 1,700 additional people testing positive for the virus.

Statewide, more than 29,400 people have tested positive, according to the latest statistics. More than half of the people infected are 50 or older, while most of the deaths are among people 65 and older. The department does not have data on the number of people who have recovered.

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CASINO REVENUE

Revenues dropped by more than half last month in Pennsylvania's 12 casinos and other gambling outlets as casinos shut down in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said casinos brought in $153 million from gambling and fantasy sports betting in March, down 52% from $316 million in the same month a year ago.

The casino's online slot machine games and table games including poker remain active, and revenue crept upward to $24 million from $19.5 million in February.

Online sports wagering also remains active, although bets fell in March to $131 million from $330 million in February as professional and college sports shut down.
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