Southeastern Pennsylvania moves to yellow phase, here's what you should know

Philadelphia has moved to the yellow phase with its collar counties
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- On March 23, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued a stay-at-home order for seven counties to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Among those counties were Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.

Philadelphia had issued its own order a day earlier.

It had been a few days since the governor ordered the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses. With this order, residents could only leave their homes for essential needs or business.

A month later, the entire state of Pennsylvania was classified in the red phase of Wolf's reopening plan which involved strict social distancing, non-life sustaining business and schools remaining closed, and only carry-out or delivery options for restaurants.

Now, ten weeks after the stay-at-home order was issued for the entire Southeastern Pennsylvania region, things are changing.

The stay-at-home order is now lifted for the following counties: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery and Philadelphia and the entire region is in the yellow phase.




"We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact - we know that saved lives," Gov. Wolf said. "My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time."

On Thursday, Pennsylvania reported 537 more positive cases of COVID-19, and 75 new deaths. On Friday, there were 443 more cases reported and 69 new deaths.

"I remind Pennsylvanians that yellow means caution and even in the green phase everyone needs to take precautions to keep themselves and their communities healthy," Wolf said.

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The yellow phase is here and area boutique owners in the Philadelphia suburbs are rejoicing.



Philadelphia is Ready

Up until Thursday, Philadelphia had not yet confirmed whether it would be moving with the rest of its collar counties into yellow, due to the ongoing demonstrations and protests this week after the death of George Floyd.

"I'm not announcing that, but the numbers are going in the right direction," Kenney said Thursday morning.

However, just a short time later, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley confirmed the city will be moving into the yellow phase, as well.

"The numbers justify us to moving to the next phase of our response to this epidemic," Farley said.

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Dr. Thomas Farley says Philadelphia will move to the yellow phase with the rest of the area.



Farley said, though some have expressed their concerns over protests spreading the coronavirus, he said he's noticed many protesters were wearing masks and keeping their distance from others. Philadelphia will once again be under a curfew Friday night beginning at 8 p.m. until Saturday at 6 a.m.

There were 121 new coronavirus cases and 70 new deaths reported in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Last week, Philadelphia unveiled their 'Safer at Home' guide to reopening in the yellow phase.

The changes under yellow phase for our area are discussed below, however, Philadelphia is not going along with everything under Gov. Wolf's plan.

The yellow phase allows for gatherings of no more than 25, but Farley does not recommend that. He said the city is not advising social gatherings outside the house at all.

Under the yellow phase, restaurants can open outdoor dining on Friday, June 5, but not in Philadelphia. City restaurants will have to wait a week.

"We intend to have outdoor dining to resume for businesses with existing outdoor seating beginning next Friday, June 12," Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.

Abernathy said they had planned to release guidance for outdoor dining this week, but his team was delayed. He said, along with the legal aspects they have to work through, they had concerns about allowing outdoor dining this weekend while the demonstrations are ongoing.

"Our additional guidance which will include options for both existing outdoor dining setups and new strategies that do not currently have outdoor seating will be shared as soon as its available," Abernathy said.

How did we get to yellow?

When Governor Wolf's reopening plan was announced, a lot of the talk was about the 50 cases per 100,000 population for 14 days metric. According to the state, that metric was not weighed any more heavily than other factors.

In deciding which counties to move to yellow, officials said they used risk-based metrics from Carnegie Mellon University combined with contact tracing and testing capability, as well as a sustained reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

While the Southeastern Pennsylvania region moves to yellow Friday, the coronavirus pandemic is still ongoing. Masks, social distancing, and hand washing are still part of the yellow phase.



What changes in yellow?

"As we move into this yellow phase, our focus will be to keep this curve flat, so we can continue to operate, continue to move forward, get folks back to work, get our kids back to school this fall," Valerie Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday.

While in red, all business in the construction industry was permitted to resume in-person operations and real estate sales and related activity could resume if guidelines designed to limit infection were followed.

The state health department also allowed dentists to resume routine care and cleanings. Dental providers must use personal protective equipment, screen patients for symptoms of COVID-19 and practice social distancing in the office.

As stated above, the stay-at-home order has expired. However, large gatherings of more than 25 is prohibited.

"Up to 25 can gather with social distancing, but no more than 25," Arkoosh said.

In-person retail is allowable, though curbside and delivery are preferable. Restaurants and bars may open outdoor dining, in addition to continuing delivery and carry-out options.

Child care and summer camps may reopen complying with guidance.

Schools will remain closed, but will be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction after July 1 provided the schools adhere to guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Limited-in person instruction can resume at postsecondary and adult education institutions. Additionally, clinical training and field experience for all individuals preparing for licensure and certification are also permitted. The institutions must also follow guidance from the DOH and CDC.

Those who are working remotely should continue to do so. Life-sustaining businesses that could not conduct either all or part of their operations via telework will continue to conduct their operations in-person. Many non-life sustaining businesses who could not conduct operations virtually will be permitted to restart their in-person operations through the loosening of some restrictions.

"Under the governor's guidelines, telework must continue where feasible, in-person operations can commence but must follow all business and building safety orders and guidelines that have been put out by the Pennsylvania Department of Health," Arkoosh said.

What remains the same?

Restrictions at congregate/long-term care settings and correctional facilities will remain in place, meaning they cannot have visitors.

There is still no indoor dining at restaurants.

Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities and person care services such as gyms, spas, barber shops, hair salons, nail salons, and other entities that provide massage therapy, as well as entertainment venues like casinos and theaters remain closed.

During a press briefing on May 2, Levine explained these businesses provide services that do not allowing for social distancing of six feet apart.

"This is a virus that's transmitted through respiratory droplets and through the air and then on surfaces where those respiratory droplets might lie. Even if people are wearing a mask - we've always said my mask protects you and your mask protects me and the community can be protected - it's not 100%," Levine said. "And if you're with someone in close contact for a period of time, probably more than 10 minutes or more, then this virus can be transmitted."

Moving to Green

After a county transitions to the yellow phase, state officials say they will closely monitor for increased risk, such as significant outbreaks. If overall risk remains mitigated for fourteen days, the county will transition to the green phase.

The green phase would see large gatherings of more than 250 people prohibited and allow in-door dining at 50% the restaurant's capacity.
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