Philadelphia is officially in the yellow phase of reopening, which the city has dubbed “Safer at Home."
Some of our favorite boutiques have reopened. We can have small groups of people over for cookouts. Day camps have the green light. And outdoor dining is allowed in the suburbs.
But we want more. We want to go to the gym. We want to get a haircut. And for that, we have to wait until we’re in the green phase.
When can we move on to the green phase?
Hold your horses, people. We’re still, at the very least, weeks away.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s order says that a county has to be in the yellow phase for at least 14 days before moving to green. After a county transitions to the yellow phase, health professionals are supposed to closely monitor for anything that would increase the risk, such as significant outbreaks of COVID-19 cases, according to the governor’s website. And if that risk stays low for at least two weeks, the county can transition to the green phase.
It’s worth noting that one of the original benchmarks for moving into yellow — fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 population for two weeks — wasn’t true in the Philly region but the state decided to move us forward anyway. So the criteria that were supposed to decide when a county moves between phases has also been shifting.
And Philadelphians may have to wait a bit longer to safely move into the green phase, James Garrow, the Philadelphia Department of Health’s communications specialist, wrote in an email. The city’s health commissioner, Thomas Farley, is closely tracking the metrics and wants the city to continue to move toward its goal of fewer than 25 new cases per day. “The Health Commissioner has been adamant that any move we will make will be guided by the science and what we are seeing in terms of disease spread in Philadelphia, not any particular time frame,” Garrow wrote in an email. In other words, an increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases or deaths could delay a move to green.
» READ MORE: Q&A: Philly in the yellow phase
Wait a minute, Philadelphia — and many other big cities — held protests that drew thousands of people. How will that affect our progress?
We are really going to have to wait and see, said Thersa Sweet, an associate professor of epidemiology at Drexel University. There were many, many young people who were at the protests, Sweet said, so they are less likely to get severely ill. But they can still be carriers. The other issue: There was a lot yelling. And loud talking — as well as coughing, sneezing, or singing — releases respiratory droplets that can carry the virus, which increases the likelihood of spread, Sweet said. “We have no way of knowing how many people who were potentially infected protested," Sweet said.
What do we do in the meantime?
Stay vigilant. “The one thing people need to realize that when we move from red to yellow to green, it doesn’t mean that the virus is gone,” Sweet says. What it does mean is that the spread of the virus has slowed to the point that the number of people who need to be hospitalized aren’t taxing the health-care system.
So even when we move to the green phase, you have to consider your individual risk. That means if you are elderly, diabetic, suffer from asthma, or have a compromised immune system, it’s important that you continue to follow social-distancing rules — remain six feet apart — and wear a mask when you are around others or in closed, indoor spaces. The bottom line is we won’t be 100 percent safe until we are down to zero cases and we have a vaccine. “Anyone that thinks otherwise is really indulging in wishful thinking,” Sweet says.