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While others begin easing COVID-19 restrictions, York County still in 'red phase'

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

York County is not among the 24 counties that will be allowed to gradually ease COVID-19 restrictions beginning May 8, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday.

Counties and regions must meet several criteria for the governor's office to suspend the stay-at-home order and allow retail businesses to begin reopening.

"The timetable, the schedule, is not being set by us," Wolf said. "It's being set by the virus."

The governor said his administration is already looking at other counties, particularly in the southwestern and south-central regions of the state, to begin reopening next, but he didn't specify which counties were close to meeting the criteria.

To meet the benchmark for reopening, each of the six public health regions delineated by the state must have fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.

But a region must also have adequate testing capacity, supplies of personal protective equipment and the infrastructure to perform contact tracing and case investigations, according to the plan outlined on the governor's website.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said that every day York County is shut down, businesses, residents and local governments lose money, but he said York County hasn't met the requirements yet to reopen.

"This should motivate everyone to double down on all of the precautionary measures and stay at home," he said.

York County spokesman Mark Walters said the counties being moved to the yellow phase have fewer cases than counties with higher populations.

"We trust the state is going about this with caution and care with respect to medical data," Walters said.

As of Sunday, 49,267 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive for COVID-19, including 679 in York County, according to the state Department of Health.

More than 2,400 people in the state have died.

The counties that will be allowed to shift to the yellow phase May 8 are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren counties.

The first phase of reopening only eases up on a few restrictions.

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Under the yellow phase, the stay-at-home order will be lifted and in-person retail sales will be allowed again, although curbside pickup will still be encouraged.

Schools will remain closed, telecommuting and working from home will still be recommended in most cases, bars and restaurants will still be limited to takeout and delivery, and gatherings of more than 25 people will be prohibited.

Gyms, spas, salons, casinos and theaters will remain closed.

Gov. Tom Wolf has let Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Rachel Levine, take the public lead.

"The yellow phase recognizes that outbreaks of COVID-19 are still possible, and operations that cannot allow for social distancing must remain closed," Wolf said.

The governor said he reserves the right to reverse course on the phased reopening if data shows a spike in cases, and that easing restrictions depends on everyone following social distancing guidelines to lower the rate of new cases.

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