Life in the Philadelphia region won’t be anywhere near its pre-coronavirus state, but by the end of next week, restaurants might be able to resume outdoor dining, the Phillies could be allowed to practice in Philadelphia, and the Atlantic Ocean will be open to bathers in Cape May.
However, with virus-related fatalities continuing to nudge upward and the national total surpassing 100,000, reopening timetables probably will remain subject to caveats, change — and debate.
Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s guidelines released late Wednesday, restaurants in Philadelphia and other counties due to enter the “yellow” phase of easing virus-related restrictions could resume outdoor dining, but seating capacities would be limited. Pro sports teams could practice, but spectators couldn’t watch, and players would have to be tested.
And Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley held up a caution flag on Wednesday, suggesting it wasn’t a done deal that the city would enter the yellow phase on June 5, as per the current proposed schedule.
As for that weekend swim, nothing evidently can stop the ocean from reopening at Cape May at 10 a.m. Saturday, as officials have announced, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring a wet suit: The near-surf temperature Wednesday was 51.
While reiterating that they would not fast-forward the pace of reopening, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine both suggested they were seeing reasons for optimism in the latest case figures.
With 148 deaths reported Wednesday, New Jersey’s toll rose to 11,339; Pennsylvania added 113, for a total of 5,265.
“Our overall trajectory remains positive,” said Murphy, adding that the pandemic in his state was “well past the peak.”
Said Levine, “It’s important to remember that while our total number of cases will continue to increase, the number of new reported cases continues to decline.”
Anthony Fauci, the infectious-disease expert who has been the most visible member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey should expect to see upticks in cases as they loosen restrictions. But he said simple mitigation measures — social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands — could work against a resurgence.
“We can prevent this second wave,” Fauci said. “It could happen, but it is not inevitable.”
Philadelphia reported an uptick in cases on Wednesday, announcing 237 new ones, up from the 100 reported on Tuesday. Said Farley, “I’d like to see lower, but overall the trend is still down.” And he added that it would not be necessary to reach his stated goal of 50 new cases or fewer per day per 100,000 residents for the city to move into the yellow phase.
“I think that would be OK if we start to see some decrease between now and then,” he said. “I don’t think we need to have everything in place for this first stage of yellow, which is really a very careful restarting of some activities which are relatively low-risk activity."
Under Wolf’s decree, restaurants and food-service businesses will be permitted to serve guests in outdoor seating areas, but it won’t be quite like the not-so-old days. Menus won’t be reusable.
Following New Jersey’s lead, Wolf also announced that the Phillies and other professional sports teams could hold practices in the yellow counties, but no spectators will be allowed, and testing will be required for all players and other personnel.
The 76ers were to open their practice facility in Camden on Wednesday for voluntary individual workouts.
A source said the Phillies “likely” would resume spring training in Philadelphia. However, it was unclear whether Major League Baseball owners and players can reach a deal on salvaging at least some of the 2020 season. Even if they do, teams probably would play in empty stadiums.
As for when Philadelphia and all Pennsylvania counties would enter the “green” phase, Wolf said that is impossible to predict. Even in the green phase, restrictions will remain. For example, restaurant crowds will be limited, and the bar rules won’t necessarily be ideal for the singles scene.
Bar customers will have to remain seated and comply with with social distancing guidelines, remaining at least six feet from the nearest patron. Standing won’t be permitted.
Beyond that, for what the future holds during the green phase and beyond, Wolf said your guess might be as good as his:
“For all of us, there’s a new normal, and none of us at this point can tell. There’s a lot of uncertainty."
Levine said masks will be recommended during the green phase.
A poll suggested that Philadelphians have come to accept mask-wearing.
In an online survey of 626 residents conducted by the city with the University of Pennsylvania in early May, three-quarters of the respondents said they favored people wearing masks whenever they left their residences.
“If you are the one out of four who doesn’t get it," said Mayor Jim Kenney, "your neighbors know how important this is to keep their families and friends safe, and we need you to get with the program.”