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Phased reopening: It's unclear if York County will be ready May 8

It's unlikely York County and the rest of Pennsylvania's south-central region will begin reopening May 8 after Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday laid out his phased approach to ending the cornavirus shutdown. 

Wolf outlined Wednesday night the criteria his administration will use to ease stay-at-home restrictions, reopen businesses and return residents to work, including a phased reopening based on coronavirus infection rates in different regions.

But the south-central region, which has seen a high volume of cases and is adjacent to some of the counties hit hardest by the coronavirus, is not a priority at this time.

"At this time, we are primarily looking at the north-central and northwestern regions, as the governor has said, but we are continuing to review the data as we move forward in the process to reopen Pennsylvania," Department of Health spokesman Nate Wardle said.

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania speaks at a new conference at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Headquarters where he said he was ordering schools and other facilities to close in a suburban Philadelphia county, Montgomery County, that has been hard-hit by the COVID-19, Thursday, March 12, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

Under the plan, which divides the state into multi-county regions, researchers would have to document fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents for two weeks before people can return to work in a given region, Wolf said Wednesday night.

York County as of noon Thursday reported roughly 66 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks.

"We certainly won’t speculate on what could happen on 5/8," read a joint statement from the York County Board of Commissioners. "We continue to focus on each day's challenges in our community. We trust those who are making these decisions are using relevant data to make informed decisions."

Even if York and surrounding counties fell under the threshold, that may not be enough, as the ability to test for cases and trace contacts, as well as its proximity to high-risk locations, will also be taken into consideration.

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The phases will be marked by red, yellow and green, Wolf said, noting that right now the entire state is in the red phase, with only life-sustaining businesses open and residents ordered to stay at home.

Some regions will move to the yellow phase May 8 — which will include rolling back some business closures. Schools will remain closed, and restaurants will still be restricted to curbside or delivery, he said.

"We will not just be flipping a switch and going from closed to open, and ultimately the virus will set the timeline, not us," Wolf said.

Retail stores will be permitted to open with certain protections in place, and large social gatherings still will not be permitted, he said.

The state has already opened some liquor stores for pickup and sanctioned online auto sales, and all construction will resume May 1, Wolf confirmed Wednesday.

The green phase will include lifting stay-at-home orders while still adhering to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health department guidelines, such as masks, if recommended. 

The state is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to develop a modeling tool based on public health and economic factors, which the state will use to help determine phases.

Right now the first regions to be targeted for reopening are the north-central and northwest regions, which could include counties such as Tioga and McKean, Wolf said.

"Those are the areas we are looking at at this point, but the data is going to drive this," he added.  

Balancing the needs of the economy with public health needs is essential, according to state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who said she believes Wolf's plan will achieve that.

"I understand that not having definite dates for each of these pieces to fall into place is difficult," Wolf said.

Some target dates might need to be pushed back, and businesses that reopen might need to close again as information on the number of cases evolves, he said.

But pacing closures and reopenings has been essential in ensuring every sick patient receives the medical treatment that they need, Wolf added.

Kevin Schreiber, president of the York County Economic Alliance, said there is no doubt that the virus and following mitigation efforts have had a "profound" impact on the local economy.

“No industry has been spared,” Schreiber said. “Some may be able to get started before others.”

While there isn't specific data to iron our the details, the YCEA, with the help of an economist, expects to release models detailing the economic impact next week.

Schreiber also said it's hard to make predictions as to what recovery will look like, though it's undeniable more additional federal and state resources will be an integral aspect going forward.

Levine reported that as of noon Thursday statewide cases of COVID-19 had reached 37,053, up 1,369 from the day prior. There were 546 cases reported in York County.

York County had seven coronavirus-related deaths, down from 14 because the state pulled "probable" deaths from the tally because they require further investigation.

There have been 1,395 deaths in the state, which dropped by more than 200 since the previous day.

Levine said she believes there needs to be a balance drawn between hospitals and coroners in reporting these deaths, and she said there are plans in place to reconcile differences in state and coroner death tallies.

York County Coroner Pam Gay said she has only received reports of three of the county's seven confirmed deaths.