Governor prepares to relax mass restrictions in Pennsylvania

Doctors, nurses, and health care professionals at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center cheer during an Honor Ride by local fire, police, and EMS in Johnstown on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The short parade was meant to honor the health care workers, but the medical professionals thanked the first responders as well. (AP)

HARRISBURG (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf was preparing to announce Friday which parts of Pennsylvania will see some relief from his strictest orders for residents to stay at home and businesses to close as part of a strategy to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Wolf’s administration also could release details about its strategy for mass testing — although his health secretary has said it would be “aspirational” because many testing materials remain in short supply — and its contact tracing plan to contain the virus’s spread.

Wolf has said that shutdown measures he ordered starting in March have succeeded in heading off the potential that hospitals would be overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The spread of the disease has slowed in many parts of the state, and health officials say the hard-hit area of southeastern Pennsylvania appears to be past its peak rate of increase in new cases.

The coronavirus has infected more than 45,000 Pennsylvania residents and killed nearly 2,300, according to the latest Health Department statistics, while the state’s efforts to contain the virus have caused economic devastation, throwing nearly 1.7 million Pennsylvania residents out of work since mid-March.

The step-by-step relaxation of coronavirus-related shutdown directives will mean some counties or regions move from a “red” designation to a “yellow” designation. Those changes are to take effect next Friday, May 8.

Under the yellow designation, a ban on gatherings will lift and gatherings of up to 25 people will be allowed. Currently, the statewide red designation bans all gatherings or outside trips that are not related to health, safety or going to work at an essential job.

Gyms, casinos, theaters and other indoor recreational, wellness and entertainment venues will stay closed. Restaurants and bars will still be limited to carry-out or delivery, in-person retail is allowed and child care is open, although businesses must follow federal and state guidance for safety, social distancing and cleaning.

Schools remain closed, and visitation restrictions on prisons and nursing homes remain in place. Wolf’s administration will continue to recommend that people wear masks in public, and require businesses and commercial buildings that serve the public deny entry to customers not wearing masks.

There is no word on when an area could move to a “green” designation, with all pandemic restrictions lifted aside from any federal or state health guidelines that remain in effect.

Meanwhile, Wolf has begun loosening some restrictions on business sectors. On Friday, golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds can reopen, and construction can restart.