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2020 News

Wolf Extends Yellow Status to Most of Western PA; 2 Counties Rebel

May 8, 2020

Contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

Gov. Tom Wolf today ordered 13 more counties in Western Pennsylvania to reopen next week, while officials in two counties that missed the cut said they were going rogue and opening anyway.

Wolf announced that the 13 counties could move to the “yellow” phase of his three-tiered reopening plan on Friday, May 15. Those counties are Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland.

They will join 24 other counties that were allowed to move today from closed “red” status to yellow, meaning most businesses and day cares can open, but must follow strict safety and social distancing precautions.

“I’d like to emphasize that this plan is not a one-way route. We are closely monitoring the 24 counties in the yellow phase and will re-impose restrictions if danger arises,” Wolf said.

“Every contact between two people is a new link in the chain of potential transmission,” the governor said. “And if the new case count begins to climb in one area, restrictions will need to be imposed to prevent local medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed. So, Pennsylvanians should continue to make good choices.”

Leaders in two counties where officials were miffed at being passed over for yellow status said they would reopen without Wolf’s blessing.

One is Beaver County, where one nursing home is reportedly responsible for 300 of the county’s 479 positive COVID-19 cases. All but seven of the county’s 78 coronavirus deaths have been in long-term care facilities.

One Beaver County commissioner called Wolf’s exclusion an “arbitrary and capricious” decision. “Any analysis of fact would lead you to a different decision,” said Commissioner Jack Manning.

Lebanon County also announced it would move into yellow status without Wolf’s approval. A group of state and county elected officials, all Republicans, sent Wolf a letter informing him they would move the county from red to yellow status effective May 15.

The letter said the county had met the requirements of Wolf’s original stay-at-home order, “which was to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 outbreak and allow hospitals the time to gear up for COVID-19 patients being admitted to the ICU and in need of ventilators. The residents of our county have heeded your instructions to practice social distancing and other mitigation efforts, and as a result, our local healthcare facilities do not lack the capacity to effectively treat these patients going forward.”

Asked about the defections at a news briefing today, Wolf said the counties were “taking a chance with the lives of residents,” but did not threaten any specific sanctions on them.

He also appeared to downplay a much-debated metric that a number of counties, including Bucks, have been urging him to reconsider: that of requiring an infection rate of no more than 50 per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. County officials here have argued that standard ignores the low level of community spread that health officials have documented through contact tracing.

“We’re not looking at just one variable,” Wolf said. “People keep coming back to the 50 per 100,000, (but) we’re looking at a whole host of things … We’re looking at all the data we have, including the number of cases, and we’re looking at how that trajectory is changing over time. Those and a lot of other things go into our decision as to whether we think things are ready to reopen.”

The 96 new cases reported today in Bucks County continued to show minimal community spread, with only eight such cases identified. Half of the new cases were residents or workers at long-term care facilities, 14 caught the virus from people in their households, and 10 caught it from co-workers.

Seven deaths of people with COVID-19 also were reported today, raising the county’s death toll to 307. They ranged in age from 91 to 62, five lived in long-term care facilities, and all had underlying health conditions.

One hundred ninety-two coronavirus patients are hospitalized in Bucks, including 20 in critical condition and on ventilators. A total of 996 are confirmed to have recovered.

Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.  An interactive Bucks County map showing numbers of active infections by municipality can be found here.

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