Your daily coronavirus update: Another dozen Pennsylvania counties to move to “yellow” phase

In the midstate, Adams, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, and York will make the switch effective May 22.

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press
  • Michael Rubinkam/Associated Press

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(Harrisburg) — Another 2.6 million people across western Pennsylvania began to emerge from pandemic restrictions Friday as Gov. Tom Wolf prepared to announce that 12 more counties soon would join them in a partial easing.

Wolf planned to announce that Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York will be the next batch of counties moving to the “yellow” phase of his reopening plan, effective May 22, The Associated Press has learned. They are primarily in the south-central and northeast regions of the state.

They’ll join residents of 13 lightly impacted counties — including the cities of Pittsburgh, Johnstown and Altoona — where Wolf lifted his stay-at-home orders on Friday and gave permission for retailers and other types of businesses to reopen. Twenty-four counties across a vast swath of primarily rural northern Pennsylvania were the first to see a partial reopening last week.

All told, by the end of next week, more than 40% of Pennsylvania’s population of 12.8 million will have seen an easing of pandemic restrictions that were intended to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with very ill COVID-19 patients.

The state’s efforts to contain a virus outbreak that has sickened over 60,000 and killed more than 4,300 statewide have cratered the Pennsylvania economy, and Wolf is under pressure from Republican and some Democratic county officeholders to reopen more quickly. Some GOP-controlled counties have vowed to lift restrictions on their own — without Wolf’s blessing — bringing threats of retaliation from the Democratic governor.

gettysburg coronavirus business closed masks

Scott Blanchard / WITF

A sign at Fourcorners Comics & Games in Gettysburg salutes those who are wearing masks in an attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus, Monday, April 20, 2020.

In the counties where Wolf has lifted restrictions, people are now permitted to gather in groups of up to 25, although larger crowds remain prohibited. A wide range of retailers, offices and industrial sites can resume operating while observing state and federal health guidelines intended to prevent viral transmission.

However, gyms, barber shops, nail salons, casinos, theaters and other such venues are required to remain closed and other restrictions will remain in place, including a ban on youth sports. And bars and restaurants may still offer only delivery or takeout service.

Pennsylvania, which borders hard-hit New York and New Jersey, has about the 10th highest rate of coronavirus infection nationally, according to federal statistics.

Critics of Wolf’s shutdown orders, primarily Republicans, contend that they are inflicting undue suffering and are no longer warranted. saying he has met his original objective of ensuring that hospitals did not become overwhelmed. Local officials have cited the opinions of doctors at their area health systems who say the state’s economy can safely reopen and co-exist with the virus.

Sign-waving protesters, many of them without masks, staged another rally at the state Capitol on Friday to protest the shutdown.

Small business owners in particular have chafed against Wolf’s closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses, saying it threatens to drive them out of business. A handful of gyms, barbers, hair salons and restaurants have opened in defiance of the governor, saying they can operate without putting their employees’ or customers’ health at risk. Wolf has said they are jeopardizing their business licenses and other governmental approvals to operate.

About 2 million Pennsylvania residents have lost their jobs since mid-March. Food and milk giveaways draw long lines. Some people have gone two months without money because of the state’s problem-plagued online unemployment benefits portal.

In other coronavirus-related developments:

Cases

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Friday reported 124 additional coronavirus deaths, raising the statewide total to 4,342.

Most of the deaths, 89, occurred over the past several weeks, but were only reported Friday as the Health Department reconciles its records with data provided by hospitals, health systems, municipal health departments and nursing homes.

Health officials reported 986 new infections, bringing the statewide total to more than 60,600.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

COVID-19 has taken an especially hard toll on the state’s nursing homes and other facilities that care for older adults, which account for more than two-thirds of the statewide death toll.

Here are the latest figures for central Pennsylvania counties:

  • Adams: 183 cases, including 6 deaths
  • Berks: 3593 cases, including 207 deaths
  • Columbia: 334 cases, including 34 deaths
  • Cumberland: 492 cases, including 41 deaths
  • Dauphin: 912 cases, including 41 deaths
  • Franklin: 580 cases, including 17 deaths
  • Juniata: 94 cases, including 1 death
  • Lancaster: 2428 cases, including 186 deaths
  • Lebanon: 863 cases, including 19 deaths
  • Mifflin: 57 cases
  • Northumberland: 136 cases
  • Perry: 36 cases, including 1 death
  • Schuylkill: 506 cases, including 15 deaths
  • Snyder: 33 cases, including 1 death
  • Union: 44 cases, including 1 death
  • York: 828 cases, including 16 deaths

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