Bucks, Delaware, Chester, and Montgomery are among the 12 counties, mostly in Southeastern Pennsylvania, that will officially move into the final “green” stage of reopening next Friday, June 26, Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Friday.
Philadelphia will proceed to the green stage the same day, but city officials have opted for a more phased option, keeping some restrictions in place until July 3 or later.
“It’s a testament to the many residents and businesses that have sacrificed over the past three months to stay home and adhere to the guidance the state has provided to protect lives and livelihoods,” Wolf said in a statement. “As we begin to reopen, I urge everyone to stay alert and continue to follow social distancing to maintain the momentum of mitigation we have in place.”
In the green phase of reopening, all businesses may reopen and most restrictions are lifted. People will still be required to wear masks in crowds and at private businesses, and store and restaurant capacity will be limited. Groups of up to 250 people will be allowed to gather.
These moves were expected, but not officially announced until Friday.
Also moving to green next Friday are Berks, Erie, Lancaster, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Northampton, and Susquehanna Counties. Lebanon County will be the only county in the commonwealth still in the yellow phase.
Lebanon, which is about 80 miles from Philadelphia, was among the counties that moved last month to reopen without the state’s approval. Its district attorney, Pier Hess Graf, said she would not prosecute any business owners who opened their doors. Over the last two weeks, Lebanon has had among the highest rates of coronavirus cases per capita in Pennsylvania.
“Lebanon County’s partisan, politically driven decision to ignore public health experts and reopen prematurely is having severe consequences for the health and safety of county residents,” state Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in a statement. “Case counts have escalated and the county is not yet ready to be reopened. Lebanon County has hindered its progress by reopening too early.”
In response, the county’s Republican Party issued a brief statement on Facebook, saying in part: “This announcement should be given the credence it truly deserves: none. It is only more proof of what every citizen in our great county already knows. Tom Wolf is an absolute loser and a bad joke.”
While the news in this region was good, the World Health Organization said Friday that the world is in a “dangerous phase” after hitting a daily record for new coronavirus cases on Thursday: 150,000. Half of the new infections were in the Americas. In the United States, new cases hit record highs in Florida and Arizona, as well as Tulsa County, Okla., where President Donald Trump plans a visit Saturday.
Buoyed by continuing declines in key coronavirus indicators, New Jersey announced Friday that it will once again allow limited visits to people in assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, and other long-term-care settings, starting on Sunday.
Judith Persichilli, commissioner of the New Jersey Health Department, said visits will be allowed outside, by appointment. Residents, accompanied by a facility employee, can have no more than two visitors at a time. Everyone must wear masks and stay at least six feet apart. Building restrooms will not be available to visitors. Visitors must agree to inform the facility if they test positive for the coronavirus within two weeks of their visit.
“We know that it has been a long, hard three months for residents and families,” Persichilli said.
Pennsylvania has said that its restrictions on nursing-home visits will stay in place at least 28 days after a county enters the green phase.
Officials in the Pennsylvania suburbs said they were excited to hear the news that their counties were going green, but continued to urge residents to be cautious. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, more than 19,000 people have died from the virus.
Chester County Commissioners Chair Marian Moskowitz said the county was well-equipped to go green.
“Our public health strategies will ensure that businesses and organizations can reopen or expand their operations safely,” she said in a statement, “and that residents can confidently enjoy some of the services that they have been greatly missing. But green does not mean ‘full throttle go.‘ ”
Commissioners from Bucks and Montgomery Counties had echoed sentiments about being ready, but urged caution.
Philadelphia will take action to prevent residents from stepping on the gas.
On Fridfay, the city plans to allow hair salons, private swim clubs, and outdoor parts of the Philadelphia Zoo to open. A week later, on July 3, it will permit additional businesses to reopen, including gyms, malls, libraries, museums, and indoor restaurants. Casinos and large indoor gatherings will come later.
“Philadelphia is unique,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Thursday. “We need to be more careful than the other counties.”
Philadelphia and its collar counties have been shut down since mid-March. On June 5, they entered the interim “yellow” phase, which allowed some businesses to reopen with capacity limits, and the region’s stay-at-home order was lifted.
New Jersey reported 516 new positive coronavirus cases Friday, bringing its total to 168,496. Cases have risen somewhat since Sunday, when there were 274 positives. Gov. Phil Murphy said that is because “we are testing the heck out of the state right now.” He said that key measures of disease spread, such as transmission rates and the percentage of positive tests, show the state is doing well. New hospitalizations for coronavirus are down 90% from their peak.
Pennsylvania reported 526 new cases for a total of 80,762. There were 38 new deaths, bringing the total to 6,399.
Philadelphia had 118 new confirmed cases. Its total is now 24,841. There were nine new deaths. More than 1,500 city residents have died.