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Pa. still plans to lift mitigation efforts on Sunday despite warnings from Biden, CDC

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has asked all nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania to close.

Pennsylvania still will lift some COVID-19 mitigation measures on Sunday even as President Joe Biden urges states to tap the brakes on reopening plans, according to the state's top health official.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam on Wednesday acknowledged rising case counts that have raised concerns from health officials and the Biden administration. However, citing progress in vaccine rollout efforts, she said the state intends to follow through with its plans.

"The incremental relaxation that starts on Sunday, especially in the restaurant and bar industry, is not just flipping the switch entirely," Beam said. "It’s allowing us to lightly progress through the relaxation mitigation efforts while closely monitoring how folks are complying.”

More:Pennsylvania to make all adults vaccine eligible by April 19

More:Wolf to lift bar, alcohol restrictions and increase capacity allowances

Biden on Monday said states should halt their reopening plans and reimplement mask mandates as COVID-19 case rates rise in some areas of the country, Forbes reported.

Earlier that day, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emotionally pleaded with the public and warned of "impending doom" from a potential fourth surge.

“I am asking you to just hold on a little longer, to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends,” Walensky said.

Still, Pennsylvania on Sunday will lift some restrictions in a move that will particularly benefit the battered hospitality industry.

That day, indoor dining capacity will be raised to 75% if restaurants self-certify, meaning they agree to abide by the state's mitigation guidelines. Details of the guidelines can be found at www.pa.gov/covid/business-unites/certify-my-restaurant/. 

Other businesses, such as gyms, casinos and theaters, also will have their capacities raised to 75%, Wolf said.

“Two weeks ago, this was a reasonable step forward; no argument,” said Dr. Matt Howie, medical director of the York City Bureau of Health. “But over the past two weeks, we’ve seen an escalation in cases. We’ll just need to keep an eye on this really carefully.”

With an average of 32 daily cases per 100,000 people in the last seven-day period, Pennsylvania ranks sixth in the country for its case rate, according to a New York Times analysis.

Over the past 14 days, the state has seen a 63% increase in daily cases, the analysis adds.

 City of York Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie speaks at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 testing, specifically at York County Prison, was addressed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York County is also in the midst of higher day-over-day case increases.

As of Wednesday, the county's total number of cases over the last 14 days was 462 per 100,000 people. That's the highest it has been since mid-February.

The case rate ranks 13th in the state, according to data collected by Spotlight PA. 

"York County is in a tenuous spot," Howie said, adding that vaccine distribution will be crucial to ensure the county and state can fend off a fourth wave of cases.

Wolf's administration announced  Wednesday that every adult in Pennsylvania will qualify for COVID-19 vaccines starting April 19, The Associated Press reported.

In addition, emergency responders, grocery workers and others will be able to set up shots immediately.

More than 60,000 York County residents are fully vaccinated, and 42,539 have been partially vaccinated as of noon Wednesday, according to the state Health Department. 

There have been a total of 39,481 cases and 749 deaths linked to COVID-19 in York County since the outbreak began.

Statewide, 1.6 million residents have been partially vaccinated and 1.8 million fully vaccinated.

There have been 1,024,857 cases and 25,093 deaths in the state.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.