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Pennsylvania Governor Announces Three-Phase System for Reopening the Commonwealth

April 23, 2020

Pennsylvania Governor Announces Three-Phase System for Reopening the Commonwealth

April 23, 2020

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Governor Wolf stated he plans to begin easing some restrictions on May 8 in certain areas of Pennsylvania that have had a minimal COVID-19 impact through the three-phase guidelines.

As America begins the process of reopening, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced the commonwealth’s plan to reopen in a press conference in the evening hours of April 22. Governor Wolf’s reopening plan establishes a three-phase, color-coded system―red, yellow and green―which determines when Pennsylvania counties and/or regions can begin easing current restrictions on work, congregate settings and social interactions. The governor has broken Pennsylvania into six regions for the purposes of reopening: northwest, southwest, northcentral, southcentral, northeast and southeast. Governor Wolf stated he plans to begin easing some restrictions on May 8 in certain areas of Pennsylvania that have had a minimal COVID-19 impact through the three-phase guidelines. For a region to begin to reopen and enter into the Yellow Phase, there will need to be an average of less than 50 cases per 100,000 individuals for 14 consecutive days. Governor Wolf explained these three phases will adapt with the nature of the pandemic, but ultimately, COVID-19 will set the timeline.

Red Phase

The Red Phase currently applies to the entire state and is in place for the sole purpose of minimizing COVID-19 through strict social distancing, closing nonlife-sustaining business, school closures and building safety protocols. The Red Phase restrictions are as follows:

  • Only life-sustaining businesses are opened
  • Prison restrictions
  • Schools and most child care facilities closed
  • Stay-at-home orders in place
  • Large gatherings prohibited
  • Restaurants and bars limited to carryout and delivery only
  • Only essential travel encouraged

Yellow Phase 

The Yellow Phase will allow regions or counties to ease some restrictions and limits on social interaction, but will continue to keep schools and gyms closed and limit social gatherings. During the Yellow Phase, all businesses must follow CDC and the Department of Health guidance, and the commonwealth may adjust orders and restrictions as necessary. The Yellow Phase restrictions are as follows:

  • Telework must continue where feasible
  • Child care open with workers and building under safety orders
  • Prison restrictions in place
  • Schools remain closed
  • Large gatherings of more than 10 people for nonbusiness reasons remain prohibited
  • In-person retail allowable, but curbside and delivery preferable
  • Gyms, spas and public entertainment, including casinos and theaters, remain closed
  • Restaurants and bars limited to carryout and delivery only

Green Phase        

The Green Phase will ease most restrictions, such as lifting the stay-at-home order and allowing businesses to reopen. The main goal of this phase is to facilitate the return to the “new normal.” As with each phase, this one may be adjusted as necessary. The Green Phase restrictions are as follows:

  • All business may reopen, but must follow CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines
  • Stay-at-home orders are lifted, but must follow CDC and the Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines
  • The commonwealth will continue to monitor public health indictors and adjust orders and restrictions as necessary

Phase-Shifting Criteria

During the press conference, the governor stated that there is no set guideline in place to decide when one region moves from the Yellow Phase to the Green Phase. The governor has reported that before a region can be reopened, the commonwealth must ensure there is (1) enough testing available in that region; (2) robust case investigation and contact tracing in place to identify outbreaks early; and (3) identify the region’s high-risk settings, such as nursing homes and prisons, and assure that these facilities are adequately protected and supplied with the proper safeguards.

To assist Pennsylvania officials in making the decisions to reopen certain regions, the commonwealth has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University and other higher education institutions to develop data and collect evidence to help inform the decisions. This collaboration will quantify data such as population density, mobility, availability of testing and healthcare resources. The data collected will help to predict and understand what types of individuals, businesses and industries are more at risk and impacted by COVID-19. In helping plan for a potential reopening, the model could show how factors such as population density around a hotspot, availability of supplies, hospital capacity or the proximity to a hotspot in another county may make a region or county unfit to open.

Testing and monitoring will also be essential steps toward reopening. The governor’s plan will consist of a multilayered testing approach. The testing plan consists of (1) community-based testing; (2) point of care testing; and (3) serology testing for the population that may have developed COVID-19 antibodies. Moreover, the commonwealth will conduct surveillance, case investigation and contact tracing to isolate and stop the transmission of COVID-19.

Each phase will require businesses, workers, customers and communities to adhere to additional procedures and guidelines. Similar to workers’ compensation or OSHA regulations, the commonwealth will require all businesses to make employees and customers aware of the established guidelines by clearly displaying a standardized “COVID-19 Safety Procedures for Businesses” flyer. A ban on large gatherings unrelated to occupations will remain in place for the duration of the reopening process, as well as requirements to wear face masks and gloves. In addition, the commonwealth will work with the Department of Education and Human Services to address the child care and education needs as Pennsylvania citizens prepare to transition back to work outside of the home. 

Governor Wolf stated in his press conference, “the virus ultimately controls the calendar for each and every one of us.” Each phase comes with the caveat that the commonwealth can amend the reopening plan based on the conditions and health indicators, the Carnegie Mellon University data research and the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s metrics. Governor Wolf cautioned that target dates could be pushed back and social distancing could very well return with another outbreak. He explained that the present uncertainty is an extremely difficult task for everyone, but by following the three phases properly, Pennsylvania will be doing its part to stop the spread and reopen the commonwealth in a safe and efficient manner.

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