EDITORIAL: Finally, a plan for reopening Pennsylvania

York Dispatch Editorial Board

After nearly six weeks, there appears to be a reasonable, flexible plan for bringing Pennsylvania out of the coronavirus shutdown.

But it's still anyone's guess as to how long it will be before we can all return to some semblance of normal lives.

Gov. Tom Wolf released his plan to reopen businesses in the state on Wednesday evening, two days after he extended the state's shutdown orders through at least May 8, and two days after thousands of people protested the shutdown in Harrisburg, sometimes standing shoulder to shoulder without masks.

"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.

Wolf's plan is measured, with three phases to be rolled out over six regions of the state. It will be slow, and it will mean shutdowns continue in some areas for a long time still.

It's the right thing to do.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaks during a meeting with The York Dispatch editorial staff at the Dispatch offices Friday, October 19, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

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Wolf is doing something that not every executive branch leader in the country is doing: He's listening to the experts. The state Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Labor and Industry and more are working with Carnegie Mellon University to create a data-driven tool to support decisions on when each region is ready to move to the next step in the process.

The goal is to take into account as many data points as possible, from new cases and deaths to positive and negative tests to available hospital beds, personal protective equipment, ventilators and medical staff as well as worker safety measures and watching measures that succeed or fail in other states.

For now, the whole state remains under the red phase. Part of the plan is to allow construction work to resume on May 1. Another part is to keep all schools in the state closed through the end of the academic year, as the Department of Education already announced. 

The north-central and northwest regions of the state might be the first to move to the yellow phase, as soon as May 8, which means a lightening of restrictions on businesses, with retail stores allowed to reopen, but with curbside and delivery preferred. Child care would be able to reopen, and all businesses would have to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection for worker and building safety. Social gatherings up to 25 people would be allowed, and restaurants and bars would have to remain closed except for takeout and delivery.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has asked all nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania to close.

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The final phase, green, would allow everything to reopen as long as CDC and Department of Health guidelines are followed.

The plan also makes it clear that before any areas are reopened, there must be enough testing in place for anyone with symptoms, anyone at high risk, health care workers and first responders, as well as a system in place to inform people if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive.

With states and hospitals still scrambling for testing materials, that could be the hardest hurdle to overcome.

This is the kind of plan we expect: well thought out, working with experts, considering every angle possible. 

Hopefully, opening the businesses will go more smoothly than the order that closed them. That process was rightly criticized for a lack of transparency about which businesses were granted waivers. 

The reopening plan needs to go off without a hitch for the health and the welfare of all Pennsylvanians.