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Alerts and Updates

Pennsylvania's Data-Driven COVID-19 Reopening Plan Begins with Counties in Yellow Phase

May 8, 2020

Pennsylvania's Data-Driven COVID-19 Reopening Plan Begins with Counties in Yellow Phase

May 8, 2020

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All reopening decisions follow the six standards outlined in Governor Wolf’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania.

As the commonwealth starts to look forward to reopenings from COVID-19 pandemic closures, this Alert reviews which Pennsylvania counties will be open and what the process is/was to enable this.

24 Counties Moving to Yellow Reopening

The 24 counties that are moving from red to yellow on May 8 are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.

These counties were deemed ready to move to a reopening—or yellow phase—because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread.

Decision Process

The Wolf administration partnered with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to create a Risk-Based Decision Support Tool that is intended to enable decision makers to strike a balance between maximizing the results of our economy while minimizing public health risks.

The CMU tool looked at the impacts of risk factors such as reported number of COVID-19 cases per population of an area; ICU and medical/surgical bed capacity; population density; population over age 60; and reopening contact risk, such as the number of workers employed in a currently closed industry sector.

The CMU metrics were considered along with the county or region’s ability to conduct testing and contact tracing to first and foremost maintain robust public health.

The Department of Health developed testing and contact-tracing plans that informed their decisions and will be used in making decisions moving forward.

Factors include having enough testing available for individuals with symptoms and target populations such as those at high risk, healthcare personnel and first responders, and the ability to perform robust case investigation and have in place a contact-tracing infrastructure that can quickly identify a cluster of outbreaks to issue any necessary isolation and quarantine orders.

All reopening decisions follow the six standards outlined in Governor Wolf’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania. These include adhering to:

  • Data-driven and quantifiable criteria to drive a targeted, evidence-based, regional approach to reopening.
  • Clear guidance and recommendations for employers, individuals and healthcare facilities and providers for assured accountability.
  • Adequate and available personal protective equipment and diagnostic testing.
  • A monitoring and surveillance program that allows the commonwealth to deploy swift actions for containment or mitigation.
  • Protections for vulnerable populations such as limitations on visitors to congregate care facilities and prisons.
  • Limitations on large gatherings unrelated to occupations.

Defining the Yellow Phase

As regions or counties move into the yellow phase, some restrictions on work and social interaction will ease while others remain in place, such as closures of schools, gyms and other indoor recreation centers, hair and nail salons, as well as limitations around large gatherings.

On May 4, the administration released guidance for businesses permitted to reopen on May 8 in these 24 counties. The guidance was developed through collaboration with the affected counties, Team PA, the Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Labor & Industry, among others. Guidance will build on existing safety and building safety orders released in April.

Work and Congregate Setting Restrictions

  • Telework must continue where feasible.
  • Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders.
  • Child care centers may open in compliance with guidance.
  • Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place.
  • Schools remain closed for in-person instruction

Social Restrictions

  • Stay at home order is lifted for aggressive mitigation.
  • Large gatherings of more than 25 prohibited.
  • In-person retail is allowed, with curbside and delivery preferable.
  • Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities and personal care services (such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy), and all entertainment venues (such as casinos, theaters) remain closed.
  • Restaurants and bars limited to carryout and delivery only.

All businesses not specifically mentioned as restricted from reopening may reopen if they follow the forthcoming guidance.

Moving Forward

Counties that will remain under the stay-at-home order will be considered for reopening in the next several weeks as the state continues to closely monitor metrics and collaborate with CMU, health experts and counties.

About Duane Morris

Duane Morris has created a COVID-19 Strategy Team to help organizations plan, respond to and address this fast-moving situation. Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information. Prior Alerts on the topic are available on the team’s webpage.

For More Information

If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, Sharon L. Caffrey, Eve I. Klein, Elizabeth Mincer or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.