HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ)–Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced 17 counties will be moving into the green phase.
They are: Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango, and Warren Counties.
Four of these counties, Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, and Jefferson are in WTAJ’s viewing area. They will all enter the green phase next Friday, May 29.
All other counties in Central PA will remain in the yellow phase, except for Huntingdon County which will enter the yellow phase next Friday, May 29.
Gov. Wolf said moving counties to the green phase comes after they saw very few Covid-19 cases over the last two weeks.
“I must emphasize that moving into the green phase will still require cautions to keep our communities and our families safe,” Wolf said. “Covid-19 continues to be a threat to our health and welfare and unfortunately that will not change until we have a vaccine or a cure. So while these counties will see a return to near normalcy some precautions will continue to be in effect for the safety of our residents.”
What does it mean to enter the Green Phase?
Here’s the break-down:
- All businesses that were operating at 50% occupancy during the yellow phase, can now move to 75% occupancy
- Child daycare centers can open
- Schools are still subject to the state’s guidance
- Large gatherings remain restricted
Other big changes; The following can now open while operating at 50% occupancy:
- Restaurants and bars
- Personal care services like hair salons and barbershops
- Indoor recreation centers like gyms and spas (appointments strongly encouraged)
- Entertainment venues like casinos, theaters, and shopping malls
Also, construction activity may return to full capacity.
All businesses and customers must follow CDC and DOH guidelines for social distancing and cleaning. Friday, Gov. Wolf said wearing a mask at the businesses listed above is required.
Gov. Wolf said more details on the guidelines for the green phase will be announced next week.
What do county leaders in Central PA have to say about going green?
In speaking with County Commissioners from Elk and Cameron Counties, they conveyed a sense of optomism–particularly for the local economy. Still, they felt it’s best for overall safety to move forward cautiously.
“It’s huge news, it’s very exciting, it’s very scary… it’s a double edged sword,” said Fritz Lecker, Elk County Commissioner.
One side of the sword: Elk County Commissioners fear some will stop social distancing, constant hand washing, and wearing masks (against the Governor’s requests).
“This Covid could be harmful to this county. 65 years of age and older makes up a good percentage of our population, we have to be concerned with them,” said Joe Daghir, Elk County Commissioner.
But, on the other side of the sword, Commissioners said they know how important reopening is for local businesses.
“Our mom and pop shops… they are dying. They need to get back to work they want to feed their families. They’re in great danger of losing their businesses if they don’t get back to work,” Lecker said.
Many are hopeful going green will have businesses seeing more green.
“We’ve had several reach out to us on a regular basis. They are ready. They are ready to re-open safely. They’re not sure if a restaurant opening at 25% or 50% capacity will generate enough revenue to let them stay alive. But, they want the chance, they want the opportunity. They need to make a living and feed their families,” Lecker said.
There’s a similar sentiment in Cameron County.
“We are happy to be going into the green phase,” said Ann Losey, Cameron County Commissioner.
She added: “It’s very much needed… our local economy is really struggling. We’re such a small community… the places hit hardest are restaurants and small local flower shops.”
Losey feels for local businesses.
“Their hands have been tied with this… so it would be nice for them to get moving again. Try to get on some kind of normal routine…getting people to go out to their businesses,” she said.
Some foot traffic may come from those visiting from counties in the yellow phase. Some visitors may want to sit down for a meal in a restaurant, get a haircut, or go to a gym.
“We’re gonna get an influx of people, and we welcome those people as we would at any time,” said Matt Quesenberry, Elk County Commissioner.
But with these visitors, commissioners recognize the prospect of more potential coronavirus cases.
“The risk is gonna be there,” Losey said.
She added: “We don’t feel this is a free-for-all, and just throw caution into the wind… this is still a very serious threat.”
Leadership in Elk, Jefferson, Clearfield, and Cameron Counties hopes they cans set a benchmark for what “the green phase” should look like: people using common sense to keep others safe.
“I think it’s the right time… because we have six cases total. We’re not going to be dismissive of the concerns, but I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do here. To me if it has to start somewhere it should start here,” said Quesenberry.
He added that with the Penn Highlands Health System in Elk County, he feels they’re prepared for an influx of cases.
“They are prepared as always… so it’s a bit of an uncertain future but one component that makes me more confident is we have a healthcare system at the ready should we have an increase in more positive cases,” Quesenberry said.
Why Centre County isn’t entering the Green Phase next week
Governor Wolf announced Friday that Centre County would have been on the list of counties to enter the green phase but said, “Local officials in Centre County said they didn’t feel that Centre County was ready to move, so we honored their request.”
Wolf added: “I think they’ve done a phenomenal job… yet they don’t feel they’re ready. And we’re sensitive to their request.”
The officials who asked Gov. Wolf to hold-off on entering the green phase for one additional week are Democratic Centre County Commissioners Michael Pipe and Mark Higgins.
The two felt that in moving to the green phase next Friday, May, 31, the county could see a rise in the spread of Covid-19, particularly through asymptomatic cases, before and during the primary election on June, 2.
Commissioners Pipe and Higgins feared that if the county went green, many more cases of Covid-19 would spread on Election Day.
They feel holding off for an additional week (having Centre County enter the green phase, if approved, on June, 5) would ensure safety for voters, poll workers, and everyone in the county.
Higgins said “There’s a better chance of us staying in the green phase if we wait until after Election Day.”
Steven Dershem, Republican Centre County Commissioner, disagreed writing on his professional Facebook page:
“I am in complete agreement that Centre County should be moved into the GREEN phase of reopening as soon as possible. As a business owner, I am completely sympathetic with all businesses that are struggling to survive and need to reopen ASAP. Please know that I will do everything within my power to get Centre County’s GREEN status confirmed and get everyone open for business!”
Republican State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman who represents Centre County also disagreed with Commissioner Pipe and Higgins decision, feeling it’s unfairly restrictive on county businesses.
He said: “I am stunned that the Commissioners Pipe and Higgins have chosen to keep our local community shuttered…instead of focusing on what we can do, Commissioners Pipe and Higgins said ‘we can’t.’ Instead of saying Centre County residents can and will continue to do a good job of staying safe, social distancing, wearing masks and more, Commissioners Pipe and Higgins said employers cannot reopen their doors. They dictated that workers cannot return to their jobs and support their families. They said ‘we can’t’ despite data supporting the county moving to the least restrictive green phase of reopening.”
Senator Corman continued:
“Measures taken to slow the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, school closures, and shelter-in-place orders, have led to greater isolation and loneliness,” Senator Corman said. “What I am hearing from our friends and neighbors is that they are ready and determined to take on the COVID-19 fight in their communities and throughout their activities and professions. It’s unfortunate that the Commissioners Pipe and Higgins do not feel the same.”