Almost Two Weeks Into Yellow Phase, Northwest Counties have 62% Increase in New Cases
HARRISBURG (MAY 20 2020) - With the Pennsylvania Department of Health's data system down today, there are no new numbers to report. The lack of new data gave us time to take a look at how the yellow phase has impacted the counties in Pennsylvania's northwest, among the first to "go yellow", on May 8.
In view of Monroe County moving towards the yellow phase, the result is a cautionary tale, reminding us of Governor Wolf's frequent refrain, that "Yellow means caution."
Yesterday Erie County, the county with the greatest number of cases of those which went yellow on May 8, had the largest number of new COVID-19 cases ever. Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said that Erie County still had community spread, as a number of the cases could not be traced to a previously known case. A number of them were also family-spread, where family members lower their mitigation standards when congregating with family outside their household, a prominent source of new cases.
"People are going out more often, shopping more and doing other activities some that are permitted under the guidelines and others that are not," Dahlkemper told Erie.com. "We are about 12 days into the yellow phase, so we think the spike has a lot to do with that."
Even with the increase in total new cases, the region remains below the 50 case per 100,000 level. However, the 62% increase is instructive for Monroe County as, if the County were to open today, that level of an increase would put us well above the 50/100,000 level. The yellow phase of Pennsylvania's phased re-opening plan allows for many businesses to return, but is not meant for business as usual. Also called "aggressive mitigation", the yellow phase requires continued use of masks in public places where social distancing is not possible, safety protocols for retail stores, for teleworking to continue where possible, and for retail stores to use curbside pickups and, where that is not feasible, to limit capacity in the stores and to adopt social distancing measures, such as one-way aisles, and floor markings. Broadly speaking, the yellow phase will look like this:
Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions
• Telework Must Continue Where Feasible
• Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business and Building Safety Orders
• Child Care Open Complying with Guidance
• Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place
• Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction
• Stay at Home Order Lifted for Aggressive Mitigation
• Large Gatherings of More than 25 Prohibited
• In-Person Retail Allowable, Curbside and Delivery Preferable
• Indoor Recreation, Health and Wellness Facilities and Personal Care Services (such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy), and all Entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) Remain Closed
• Restaurants and Bars Limited to Carry-Out and Delivery Only
All businesses in the Yellow Phase counties not specifically mentioned as restricted from reopening may reopen if they follow the guidance.
Most in-person retailers, like appliance stores, clothing stores, and sporting goods stores, will be permitted to operate, but curbside pick-up and delivery are still encouraged. Pet stores are also open to all customers under yellow phase, not just those purchasing pet supplies and those seeking veterinary treatment for pets.
Customers employees and customers will still be wearing masks. Shopping malls may not reopen, although stores with their own external entrances may operate if they adhere to all of the other distancing, mitigation, and occupancy requirements.
Golf courses, marinas, and gun stores were opened under red, but under yellow, they have less strict rules. Bike shops and cell-phone providers under red were only allowed to perform repairs, but under yellow, they can make in-person sales. Bail bondsmen, law offices, notary and title services, car dealerships, garden centers, dog groomers, and apartment leasing offices are open for in-person sales under yellow phase.
Child-care providers are allowed to operate, but must comply with state guidelines. Businesses that were able to have employees telework, are required to continue to do so as much as feasible.
All businesses will have criteria they must meet in order to remain open.
Some of those rules that need to be followed are:
• Businesses should conduct business with the public by appointment only, whenever possible.
• If appointment-only service is not feasible, retailers should limit the number of people inside the building to no more than 50% of the total maximum occupancy.
• Customers must wear masks at all times, with some exceptions for infants and those with medical conditions.
• Hours will likely be modified so that there is enough time to clean and restock, including designated times for people at high risk to shop.
• Customers are encouraged to use online ordering by providing delivery or pick-up option.
Locations providing in-person business services should be wiping down and disinfecting surfaces as often as possible. They should also have detailed plans about what to do in case they discover that an employee or customer has become infected with coronavirus.
Hotels, motels, inns, and lodging houses were allowed under red phase, but short-term vacation rentals were not. But in the yellow phase, short-term rentals are allowed, as long as they adhere to social distancing, cleaning, and gathering-limit guidelines.
Restaurants and bars will only operate as takeout and delivery. Visits to nursing homes, congregate-care facilities, prisons, and jails are still prohibited. Gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons, and other entities that provide massage therapy must remain closed because they cannot perform services without maintaining intimate contact.
Entertainment venues like casinos and theaters also must remain closed. No sporting events! Some PLCB liquor stores will open for limited in-person sales.
The gathering limit for counties moved into the yellow phase is raised from ten persons to 25, but social distancing must be maintained.
The yellow phase will mean more people getting out and more interactions. That's exactly what this virus looks for to spread. The data continues to show that the single most effective way to get back to business and prevent the spread at the same time is the simple expedient of always wearing a mask when you leave the home.