Barring a spike in COVID-19 cases, the light was set to turn green this week in Bucks, Montgomery and 10 other Pennsylvania counties and gives residents access for the first time in months to bars, gyms, barbershops and other closed locations.
But go out carefully and be “vigilant”, warned Gov. Tom Wolf in ending the mitigation that has stymied businesses and social norms, and sparked political animosity and left nerves frayed.
“It’s a testament to the many residents and businesses that have sacrificed over the past three months to stay home and adhere to the guidance the state has provided to protect lives and livelihoods,” said Wolf.
The move to the least-restrictive phase, which was to become effective Friday, impacts 12 counties: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware Erie, Lancaster, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Susquehanna. The shutdowns were put in place in March to slow the spread of the virulent disease that so far has infected more than 80,000 Pennsylvanians and killed more than 6,300.
Turning green doesn’t mean all is clear, said the governor.
“Masks are considered critical in stopping the spread of COVID-19, now and in preparation for a possible resurgence of the virus in the fall,” he said. “Mask wearing has proven to be an important deterrent to the spread of the virus. We need to be vigilant in our efforts to continue mitigation efforts.”
It’s required that masks are worn when visiting businesses to protect employees, employers’ families and communities, said Wolf.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania is only one of three states that has shown a 42-day steady decline in COVID-19 cases. Fewer than half of all states currently are showing a decline in cases.
The county health department saw a low level of infection throughout last week.
So how will life change in the green phase?
Restaurants can open at a limited capacity, and previously closed businesses like hair and nail salons, health and wellness centers, casinos and theaters are permitted to open at 50 percent occupancy. Gatherings of up to 250 people will be allowed with the appropriate social distancing restraints, and bars and restaurants can open inside facilities to 50 percent occupancy.
“We’re very excited for all businesses to finally open; it’s been a long road for many of them,” said Dr. David Damsker, director, Bucks County Health Department. “Our citizens have done a terrific job of being mindful of the precautious needed to keep community spread of COVID low.”