It’s not easy being green. (Hat tip to Kermit the Frog.)
“Green” is the least restrictive phase of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s color-coded economic reopening strategy, and he is expected to announce that Southeastern Pennsylvania counties can enter that stage next Friday, June 26.
But Philadelphia officials on Thursday unveiled a slower and more restrictive approach, called Reopening With Care.
“Philadelphia is unique,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said, citing risk factors for COVID-19 resurgence including population density, poverty, and weeks of protests. “We need to be more careful than the other counties” in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
The collar counties anticipate entering the state’s definition of green in a week, with schools, restaurants, casinos, hair salons and gyms reopening, all with various restrictions. Large events involving more than 250 people are still prohibited.
Philadelphia’s plan allows some careful reopenings next Friday, including salons, private swim clubs, and outdoor parts of the Philadelphia Zoo.
On July 3, another wave of reopenings is to be allowed, including gyms, shopping malls, schools and colleges, libraries, museums, indoor restaurants, and outdoor sports activities for youths and adults. Casinos, public pools, and large indoor social or religious gatherings will have to wait.
“We’ll be watching the numbers very closely,” Farley said. If cases surge, “we may have to go back to yellow.”
And while green is considered the “new normal” for life under the pandemic, it will be full of travails, including face masks in public, occupancy limits, and continued shutdowns of venues such as theaters.
“Mask-wearing has proven to be an important deterrent to the spread of the virus, and as more counties move to green, we need to continue our mitigation efforts,” Wolf said in a statement Thursday.
New Jersey is also trying to strike a balance between economic recovery and pandemic resurgence. The indoor portion of shopping malls in New Jersey may reopen on June 29, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Thursday. But all mall customers will be required to wear face coverings, and stores will be limited to half capacity. Theaters and arcades will remain closed. Food court seating and common seating areas will also remain off-limits, but mall restaurants may continue to provide takeout or outdoor dining.
”Certainly malls are part of New Jersey culture,” Murphy said. “We want these businesses to get back up and running responsibly and safely. And we ask everyone who wishes to head out to the mall to comply with the requirements in place.”
The cautious reopening reflects the fact that COVID-19 case counts and deaths in New Jersey and Pennsylvania continue to fall, even as they rise in other big states like Florida, Texas and California. Pennsylvania had 418 additional cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 80,236, including 6,361 deaths. New Jersey reported 277 new cases, bringing the total to 168,107, including 12,800 deaths.
Philadelphia, once the hot spot in the state, has seen its new-case count fall from about 800 a day to 80 a day, Farley said.
The Wolf administration has set three key benchmarks for reopening. Besides stable or falling case counts for two weeks compared with the previous two weeks, counties must meet testing and contact tracing goals. Officials in the city and the suburban counties — Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware — all said they are on track to meet the goals.
“But green is not ‘Go back to normal,’” Val Arkoosh, a physician and chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said on Thursday. ”Green is ‘go forward to our new normal.’ ”
Bucks County officials said they have not received any official word from the governor’s office about moving to the green phase next Friday, but are optimistic. ”We have every reason to believe it’ll be June 26,” said Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia.
”From a public health perspective, we better go,” added Health Director David Damsker.
Damsker said he believes the county may be able to avoid a second wave of cases due to its strong contact-tracing program, which at one point tracked 160 cases and now has been tracking fewer than 25 a day. Plus, businesses that have opened have been careful. ”The salons and gyms, they have some real strong sanitary guidance” for when they open in the green phase, he said. “I don’t think there will be a big outbreak from those facilities,” where masks are required.
He said his main concern in green will be transmission at bars, “any time you mix alcohol with social distancing.”
On another reopening front, five more Philadelphia state liquor store locations will reopen for “limited in-store access” on Friday. The newly reopened locations are in the Northern Liberties, Chestnut Hill, Center City, Wissahickon, and Frankford neighborhoods, and join a list of 23 stores in the region that opened for in-person business last week.
Across the commonwealth, 554 of the stores will be open as of Friday, according to the Liquor Control Board, including 25 locations in Philadelphia, two in Montgomery County, and one in Delaware County.
But while restrictions are easing, anxiety related to the pandemic appears to be growing, especially among millennials.
A national survey of 5,600 people by the Main Line Health Center for Population Health Research at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research found that more than half of respondents under age 40 had anxiety levels that would typically warrant talking with a mental health professional.
”We suspect this is due to financial- and employment-related worries among those in this age group,” said Sharon Larson, executive director of the center.
There has been increasing concern over the impact of job insecurity and loneliness on millennials, a group that was already experiencing a mental health decline before the pandemic.