May 22, 2020
Philadelphia and all of the surrounding counties will enter the state's yellow phase of reopening on June 5, Gov. Tom Wolf announced during Friday's coronavirus briefing.
All 67 Pennsylvania counties will have exited from the red phase of the crisis by that date, Wolf said. Seventeen counties that already have proceeded to the yellow phase will enter the green phase on May 29, the same day eight counties other counties will move from red phase to yellow.
Last month, Wolf and his administration unveiled the color-coded plan for Pennsylvania to emerge from restrictions intended to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Based on those benchmarks, Philadelphia and surrounding counties would need to be reporting far fewer COVID-19 cases over a 14-day average period than it currently does before advancing to the yellow phase.
The governor said on Friday that the decision to advance Southeastern Pennsylvania to the yellow phase is based on variety of metrics and what has been observed in other counties that recently moved to yellow.
"We feel comfortable and confident that by that date, June 5, Philadelphia will be in a position that its citizens can safely move into the yellow phase," Wolf said.
The details of the Process to Reopen Pennsylvania on the state's website, describe the yellow phase as follows:
• Businesses must operate via telework whenever feasible. Businesses with in-person operations and child care centers may reopen but must follow safety orders. Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place. Schools remain closed.
• Stay-at-home orders are replaced by aggressive mitigation orders. Gatherings of 25-plus people remain prohibited. In-person retail sales are permitted, but curbside and delivery services are preferred. Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities – like gyms and spas – must remain closed, along with entertainment venues, like casinos and theaters. Bars and restaurants are still restricted to takeout and delivery options.
• All businesses are required to follow CDC and state health guidelines for social distancing and cleaning. State officials will continue monitoring public health indicators and adjusting orders and restrictions as needed.
While Philadelphia's fast-tracked timeline comes amid weeks of progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19, infection rates in the city still remain relatively high.
The state's original guidelines stipulated that over a 14-day period, regions of counties would need to reach fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 population in order to leave the red phase. In Philadelphia alone, that would have been an average of about 55 cases per day over a 14-day-period.
The city currently stands at more than 250 cases per 100,000 population during the last 14 days. Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties – all part of the same region as Philadelphia – also are seeing case numbers above the respective benchmarks set by the state.
"We have never used that metric exclusively," Wolf said Friday. "We never did. As we know more and have more ability to test and know more about this disease, we have broadened the number of things that we look at."
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said rolling averages of new cases, which appeared to stall this week, are trending in a positive direction across the state overall.
"We feel very confident in the decreasing rate of new cases that we're having," Levine said. "We also feel very comfortable that the percent positive of new cases — so if you look at the total number tested, and then the percent positive cases — is continuing to go down really in all the regions, and particularly in the southeast. So we feel very comfortable with the approach that the governor is taking."
Pennsylvania reported an 866 additional positive cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the statewide total to 66,258. Another 115 fatalities brought the death toll in Pennsylvania 4,984. Philadelphia reported 309 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the city's total to 21,009. Fifty-six fatalities — many of them backlogged confirmations — increased the death toll in Philly to 1,221.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who has pledged to keep public health at the forefront of the crisis response, issued a statement of caution on Friday in response to the governor's announcement.
It's clear from the Commonwealth's action that the work of Philadelphians — complying with the Stay at Home Order, social distancing, practicing good hygiene, and wearing masks — has put us in a much safer position than we were in two months ago. We successfully flattened the curve to prevent a hospital surge, and we undoubtedly slowed the spread of COVID-19 and saved many lives. I cannot thank our residents and business owners enough for their tremendous sacrifices during this extremely challenging time.
But as we move to the next stage of the response, I need to remind Philadelphians that we are not yet out of the woods. The virus is still very present in our communities, and as we've seen, it disproportionately impacts people of color who suffer from chronic health conditions at a greater rate, making treating a COVID infection even harder.
Because COVID-19 can re-surge at any time, we still need to be smart, wear masks, limit gatherings, work from home as much as possible, and look out for one another. When some sectors of our economy reopen, businesses must do everything possible to keep employees and customers safe.
Next week, our Administration will release more on what Philadelphians need to know when we move to the Yellow phase on June 5. In the meantime, remember our Stay at Home Order is still in full effect. Please stay home to stop the spread. The next two weeks are critical—if we see a spike in cases it will jeopardize any hope we have of beginning to reopen.
Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia's health commissioner, recently said that wearing face masks must become the "new normal" when Philadelphia enters the yellow phase. He added that the city evaluates hospitalization rates — which have been falling — and testing capacity when considering its strategy for reopening.
"We look forward to further review and discussion with the state Department of Health," Farley said in response to Friday's announcement. "Any re-opening should be done in a safe way — under guidelines that we will distribute — and gradually so that we can constantly evaluate with data whether we have gone too far or the spread of the virus is picking up speed again."
Earlier Friday, Mayor Kenney said he does not wish to maintain restrictions in Philadelphia for longer than the rest of the region, or beyond the state's recommendations, if possible.
"From the very beginning, we have been working with the southeast region,m and we would like to walk this same route together," Kenney said.
Wolf, who has been under increasing political pressure to ease the state's pandemic response, addressed critics of the state's shift in planning.
"We have always had one focus and that is doing everything that we can to defeat this virus," Wolf said. "We know more now than we did two months ago, or even three weeks ago. Not too long ago, we were able to do a few thousand tests per day. We're now up to 12,000-13,000 tests a day. We can do things. We know things. We have models in place. We have worked with other states, with other governors, with health care professionals. We are adapting to new science, but again, there has been a focus on keeping people safe."