Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott is cautiously optimistic about Cumberland County's impending move to "yellow" status as one of 12 additional counties that will see pandemic restrictions ease.
"I'm optimistic because this proves that the sacrifices our residents and business owners have made through complying with the governor's orders were not in vain," he said.
At the same time, he's cautious "because folks need to understand that 'yellow' doesn't mean free for all."
Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday 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. They are primarily in the south-central and northeast regions of the state.
“Several key restrictions remain in place to ensure that our residents continue implementing safeguards so we have a reopening that can last, and have a sustained success for the community,” said commissioner Gary Eichelberger in a news release issued Friday.
Cumberland County commissioners said in the release that the transition to the yellow phase will allow businesses, except those specifically excluded in the Governor’s Plan to Reopen Pennsylvania, to conduct in-person operations, so long as they strictly adhere to guidance from the state.
"No 150-person house parties can occur under the yellow phase. There are still a number of precautions our residents will have to take in order to make this work," Scott said.
Cumberland County commissioners, who sent a letter to Gov. Wolf on Monday expressing their support for a move to yellow status, said Claremont Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center and the Cumberland County Prison will both remain closed to visitors and will continue to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We will be outlining our action plans for the reopening of our courthouse and all county government facilities with modifications, within the next week,” Eichelberger said.
Cumberland and the other 11 counties will 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.
The GOP-controlled Lebanon County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 Friday to lift restrictions on their own — without Wolf’s blessing. Wolf has threatened to block coronavirus funding to counties that defy him, but didn’t say Friday whether he would follow through.
“The unfortunate thing about a decision like that is why anybody would think they could make it, going to yellow in the face of a virus that’s sitting there saying, ‘I don’t think you’re really ready.' It could put the lives of folks in that county at risk," he said at a video news conference.
Some GOP-controlled counties, including Huntingdon and Dauphin, have not officially declared an end to some of Wolf's pandemic restrictions — as Lebanon did Friday — but say they won't enforce his business shutdown.
People are "voting with their feet and going to work,” said Josh Parsons, chairman of the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners.
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. They say 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.
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.
Photos: Protesters rally in Harrisburg against Gov. Wolf's business closures
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Email Tammie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TammieGitt.
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