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York County is slated to move to 'yellow' May 22, Wolf says

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County will enter into the yellow phase of reopening this coming Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday afternoon.

Wolf's announcement followed a weeklong flurry of criticism from Republican state lawmakers about the economic consequences caused by his shutdown orders designed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

“The virus has not been eradicated in these counties,” Wolf said. “And we’re continuing to closely monitor case counts.”

York will be one of 12 counties in the south-central region to enter the yellow phase, which lifts Wolf's stay-at-home order and allows most businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic to reopen. 

Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming and Wayne counties round out the list set to partially reopen this coming Friday.

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York County had made significant gains toward stifling the infection's spread, said county Board of Commissioners President Julie Wheeler in a statement shortly after Wolf's announcement.

“We are appreciative of the hard work and sacrifice by York countians," Wheeler said. "Together with our community’s business and non‐profit leaders, government officials, and all of York County, we look forward to reopening in a safe and effective manner.”

Wolf had already announced the partial reopening of 37 counties in the northwestern and western parts of the state. Friday's announcement leaves Pennsylvania's eastern regions, including Philadelphia and Lancaster, under the most severe restrictions. 

More:Coronavirus pandemic: Here's what York County's data looks like

Wolf's announcement came as York County reported 828 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths linked to the virus. As of noon Sunday, the county had 851 cases and 16 deaths. 

Statewide, there were 62,234 cases and 4,418 deaths as of noon Sunday.

Once the county moves into the yellow phase, most businesses will be able to reopen, but remote work must continue "where feasible," according to Wolf's plan.

In-person businesses and the public in general will still be required to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Child care facilities will also be able to open as long as guidance from the CDC is followed.

In addition, in-person retail will be allowable, but curbside and delivery are "preferable." And dine-in service will still be banned at bars and restaurants.

Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all but “life-sustaining” businesses to close in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The following restrictions remain in effect under the yellow designation: 

  • Large gatherings of 25 or more will still be prohibited.
  • Schools will remain closed.
  • Restrictions on prisons and congregate care facilities will still be in effect.
  • Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities and personal care services — such as gyms, hair salons and nail salons — must remain closed.

Still, the economic effects of the shutdown won't just disappear.

The York County Economic Alliance, in conjunction with a Pittsburgh-based economist, has projected up to 30% of small businesses in the county won't be able to reopen.

YCEA President Kevin Schreiber, though, said the move into yellow was still a reason to be optimistic.

"It’s a significant step forward for the community," Schreiber said. "It’s a significant step into recovery and getting us closer to some sense of normalcy.”

Republican backlash over Wolf's coronavirus mitigation efforts  — which have been backed by the state Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court — have been notable since they began.

At least locally, however, calls to reopen the region from both state-level and congressional lawmakers intensified over the past week.

"People are fed up with (Wolf's) lackluster leadership and the void in keeping our government officials informed and up to date," said Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, in one of several news conferences that resembled political rallies, state lawmakers representing York and Adams counties demanded Wolf open up their economies to relieve the economic devastation brought by the coronavirus closures.

Prior to Friday's announcement, several counties also considered defying Wolf's order and opening anyway, a move that led Wolf to call county leaders' actions "cowardly," further infuriating Republicans.

For most counties, though, those plans to defy the governor's order waned once he said that he would pull state aid from those that went through with it, The Associated Press reported. 

On Friday, however, Lebanon County commissioners voted to move into the yellow phase, PennLive reported. The county was not included among those slated to have the restrictions eased.

House Republicans have continued to push through several pieces of legislation that would force Wolf to reopen the state's economy even if counties remain in the red phase.

Their fate is unclear, because Wolf’s veto pen has served as the fate for previous GOP attempts.

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