HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) — Gov. Tom Wolf has announced that 13 western Pennsylvania counties, including the heavily populated Pittsburgh metropolitan area, can shed his most restrictive Coronavirus pandemic orders on movement and businesses.
The counties announced Friday for reopening in a week are Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Those comprise nearly 2.7 million residents.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued statements on the announcements:
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said:
“We are delighted with the Governor’s announcement today that the Southwest region will move into the yellow phase beginning next Friday. This decision is a reflection of the great work that the residents of Allegheny County and our neighboring counties have done following the advice of our medical experts.
“This is also good news for so many in our community who have been impacted economically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re thrilled for the businesses and residents who will return to work, but also recognize that there are many more that will still be without.
“This community has always worked together and risen to the challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. We recognize that it hasn’t been easy, and that we still have a long way to go. This won’t be a short process. As we begin to expand what businesses can operate in our region, we must stay vigilant and continue to follow the mitigation measures that are in place.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said:
“I want to thank Governor Wolf for recognizing all that the greater Pittsburgh community has done to mitigate the spread of this pandemic, and allowing us to take initial steps toward reopening our city and our economy. But we are far from beating this — Pittsburgh residents, workers and visitors need to keep focusing on social distancing, not leaving home if they are sick, wearing masks, washing hands and generally just being smart about fighting this still-spreading disease.
“We owe it to our city’s heroic medical personnel and first responders to keep being vigilant, and we must do much more to test the greater population and to contact trace anyone who has tested positive for the virus. I have offered the assistance of the City of Pittsburgh to help implement these needed testing and tracing measures.”
The only western county held back, Beaver County, is home to perhaps the state’s worst nursing home outbreak.
Restaurants will stay limited to takeout, while gyms and movie theaters will continue to be shutdown. Large gatherings, like concerts and sporting events, are still prohibited.
The decision by Gov. Wolf has left many officials in Beaver County frustrated.
“The frustration has to be directed at the real enemy here. It’s the virus, not the regulations,” Gov. Wolf said. “Anything we do to bring people together, whether it’s the employees or customers or both, we’re making it easier for that virus to infect people and jeopardize their health.
“I think it’s soon in Beaver County’s case, but it’s not right today to announce they’re ready to reopen,” Gov. Wolf said.
🟡 Yellow means caution.
More businesses can reopen, but proper safety measures must be in place.
There are fewer social restrictions, but residents should continue social distancing, wearing masks in public, and doing everything they can to prevent the spread of #COVID19.
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) May 8, 2020
Questions about what we are looking at to make reopening decisions?
Learn more here ⤵️ https://t.co/5Jy9QTzEjv
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) May 8, 2020
On Thursday night and Friday morning, at least three state legislators were indicating parts of Southwestern Pennsylvania would be a part of the announcement.
Sen. Camera Bartolotta posted on Facebook that Washington and Greene counties will be moved into the “yellow” phase beginning May 15.
State Sen. Kim Ward posted to Facebook Friday morning that the Governor’s Office indicated to her that Westmoreland County would also be moving to the “yellow” phase during Gov. Wolf’s announcement.
State Rep. Jason Ortitay posted that Gov. Tom Wolf will announce Friday that all southwestern counties except, Beaver County, will move into the “yellow” phase on May 15.
Earlier this week, Gov. Wolf himself indicated he was getting ready to make an announcement about the southwestern region.
“The southwest is doing a great job, and the hope is that they can move into the yellow phase like the 24 counties I announced last Friday fairly quickly,” he said.
However, Gov. Wolf on Friday added to his announcement by saying “yellow means caution” and moving to the “Yellow Phase” does not mean the end of social distancing and 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,” he said. “Every contact between two people is a new link in the chain of potential transmission. 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.”
Gov. Wolf announced the first wave of reopenings last Friday.
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Two dozen Pennsylvania counties in the rural north are beginning to emerge from lockdown today, with 1.5 million residents permitted to freely leave their homes for the first time since April 1 and retailers and other kinds of businesses allowed to reopen.
Located in a primarily rural swath of northern Pennsylvania, the counties have only been lightly impacted by a pandemic that has killed more than 3,400 people statewide. They are the first to have pandemic restrictions eased in Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan.
Other parts of the state, including the Philadelphia area, will stay in the “Red Phase” of the plan. Gov. Wolf has extended the Stay-At-Home Order for those areas through June 4.
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