Chester County moving to yellow phase on June 5
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
While the world remains in a wait-and-see phase somewhere between fear and cautious optimism about the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the residents of Chester County and its many business owners are about to receive a little good news.
Beginning on June 5, Chester County will be among eight counties in Pennsylvania who will move from the red phase to the yellow phase, as part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-tiered plan for reopening Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of a statement released on May 22, Chester County will join Berks, Bucks, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery, and Philadelphia as part of that move that makes them the last counties in the commonwealth to be removed from the red phase.
On May 29, Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill will move from the red phase to the yellow phase.
Meanwhile, 17 counties will move to the green phase on May 29: Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.
While many elected officials and business owners criticized the Wolf administration for what they felt kept Chester County and the entire southeastern region of Pennsylvania in a lockdown freeze that shut down business and commerce for too long, Gov. Wolf said that the stay-at-home directive has seen positive results. He referred to a study by Drexel University that indicates that in Philadelphia alone, 60 days of staying at home resulted in more than 7,000 lives saved and prevented more than 68,000 people from needing hospitalization.
“We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact – we know that saved lives,” Gov. Wolf said. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time.”
As a determining factor in deciding which counties would move from the red phase to the yellow phase, the state used risk-based metrics from Carnegie Mellon University, combined with contact tracing and testing capability and a sustained reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations. While the 50 new cases per 100,000 population was considered, it did not weigh any more heavily than other factors.
Overall, the new numbers reveal a sustained reduction in COVID-19-linked hospitalizations across the entire state. From May 8 when the first counties moved to yellow to May 22, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized dropped by nearly one thousand – from 2,618 to 1,667. In addition:
* The number of COVID patients on ventilators shrank by about a third, from 505 to 347.
* From May 8 to May 15, the state added 6,384 positive cases of COVID-19, but from May 15 to 21, it added 4,770 positive cases, indicating that new cases of COVID-19 continue to decline.
* The current COVID-19 incidence rate in the state is 83.4 cases per 100,000 people. Two weeks ago, it was 113.6 per 100,000. Most other states are seeing their new case rate continue to increase or remain flat.
* Pennsylvania is one of just 19 states with new case-rate declines.
“We continue to increase testing every day and are continuing to build our contact tracing capacity, as well,” Gov. Wolf said. “We are able to do these things, to be successful, to reopen in this manner because of the Pennsylvanians who have made tremendous sacrifices since the virus emerged in our state.”
Getting Chester County back to work
At the same time, the County Commissioners’ COVID-19 Business Task Force is preparing reopening strategies to help re-open, repair and restore a local economy badly in need of a rebirth.
Members of the task force bring a wealth of business, economic, education and government acumen to the group and the agreed first steps are to find out what Chester County’s 15,000-plus businesses need – and need to know – as the county moves from the red phase to the yellow phase of reopening.
“Every day, we monitor our status in Chester County and weigh up the balance between the needs of our employers with the guidance of our Health Department,” said Marian Moskowitz, Chester County Commissioners’ Chair. “We are anxious for county business to resume, and through the incredible partnerships of our business task force members, we are working to prepare businesses for what they will need to start working again.
“Trying to determine the range of needs among our incredibly diverse and geographically wide-spread business community is a daunting task – especially when we are up against a tight timeline.
“Our nine regional chambers of commerce, our municipality representatives and our industry-specific leaders are focusing on the first steps to prepare for re-opening, and their networks ensure efficient communication to and from our thousands of businesses – large, medium and small.”
At the same time as the task force is petitioning businesses on what they need to ensure their customers and employees remain protected from the coronavirus, the business task force is creating a “toolkit” using the mitigation strategies developed by the state. Feedback from Chester County businesses will be compared with the Pa. mitigation recommendations, to make sure the toolkit includes coronavirus prevention strategies that are realistic, and therefore will be followed by county businesses.
Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell said that they key directive of the task force will be to begin a two-way communication with business owners.
“The questions and requests from businesses could be as straightforward as supplying personal protection equipment to assure they are safe to begin operating,” Maxwell said. “Our business owners, managers and employees could have more specific questions about alternative ways to conduct their business that would allow them to safely provide more services during the defined ‘yellow’ phase.”
With the first step of the COVID-19 Business Task Force underway, the core team -- along with the developing advisory committee -- will begin measures to guide the development of Chester County’s longer term economic recovery plan.
In some ways, the county has already begun. The investments that the County Commissioners have made to fight the impact of COVID-19 include the formation of a $5 million Main Street Preservation grant program to financially support the county’s small businesses, and the program of antibody testing, which has already begun for first responders, health care workers and all members of their households.
“Chester County plans,” said County Commissioner Michelle Kichline. “We plan for population growth; we plan for land preservation and urban development. We plan for rainy days, which is why we have been able to invest in so many ways to meet residents’ and employers’ needs during this crisis.
“Now, we are planning to strengthen our economy, post-COVID-19, through a stepped approach to reshaping and restoring Chester County.”
Any Chester County employers who have considered different, creative ways to safely offer services to customers are encouraged to provide details of those ideas with the COVID-19 Business Task Force. Comments or questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.
Work & Congregate Setting Restrictions:
Telework must continue where feasible
Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders
Child care facilities can open, providing they comply with guidance
Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place
Schools are to remain closed for in-person instruction
Stay at home orders are lifted
Large gatherings of more than 25 are prohibited
In-person retail is permitted, although curbside and delivery is preferred
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 are limited to carry-out and delivery only