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Wolf will move remaining counties to 'yellow,' sources say

Anna Orso of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA and Chris Brennan of The Philadelphia Inquirer
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all but “life-sustaining” businesses to close in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Pennsylvania counties still under strict coronavirus restrictions — including hard-hit Philadelphia and its suburbs — will move to the “yellow” reopening phase by June 5 at the latest, according to three sources with knowledge of the Wolf administration’s plans.

Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan, 49 of 67 counties are already in the yellow phase, or the first phase of reopening, in which most but not all businesses can reopen. In the yellow phase, limitations on public gatherings remain, and restaurants and bars remain closed to in-person business. Gyms, salons, malls, and movie theaters also remain closed.

A spokesperson for Wolf declined to comment. The governor is expected to speak at a news conference today at 4 p.m.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Wolf said his administration planned to announce “a whole range” of counties would move to the yellow phase. He also hinted that he may announce some counties will move to the “green” phase, or the final phase of reopening under which there are no restrictions on which establishments can and can’t be open, but social-distancing guidelines and other safety precautions remain in place.

The administration had established metrics to determine when counties would move from the red to the yellow phase, and the administration did so largely by region. Among those metrics were testing capacity and hospitalization rates, as well as a requirement that counties report fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over the course of 14 days, a mark no county in the southeastern part of the commonwealth has reached yet.

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The county farthest from reaching that metric is Delaware, which has the highest per capita case rate of all counties in the Philadelphia region, according to state data.

But leaders in some counties, Bucks in particular, have been bullish on moving to the yellow phase and have pushed the administration to provide a timeline to do so. Asked Friday about the governor’s plan to move all counties to yellow by June 5, Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia said commissioners were “hopeful” that would be the case.

While Republicans in the General Assembly have for months pressured the administration to reopen parts of the economy more quickly, Democrats in southeastern Pennsylvania have also over the past week increased pressure on Wolf to communicate ways their counties could move to the yellow phase.

Other officials have pressured the administration to change its reopening metrics and count coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities as separate from other confirmed cases.

“We have been pleading with Harrisburg" to consider a different metric for southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware County Council Chairman Brian Zidek told residents late Wednesday in a video, and “Harrisburg, I think, is listening.”

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