DOYLESTOWN >> More than two months after much of its economy shut down and residents were ordered to stay home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bucks County learned on May 22 that it can plan to partially reopen in two weeks.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced that he expects to lift restrictions from all Pennsylvania counties by June 5, enabling Bucks and hard-hit neighboring counties to move from shut-down “red” status to partially open “yellow.” Some lightly affected counties already in yellow status will be moved to fully open “green” status, the governor said.
The announcement was long awaited by government officials in Bucks County, some of whom had argued for much of this month that the county was ready for eased restrictions, and that the standards Wolf had set for reopening were unreasonable for heavily populated Southeast Pennsylvania.
“We’ve been saying for several weeks now that Bucks County was prepared to go to yellow,” said county Health Department Director Dr. David Damsker. “We’re grateful that the governor realized that his metrics were not suitable for the Southeastern Pennsylvania counties. Bucks County has worked really hard to get the data that we have to show that we are ready to move to yellow.” PrepareforYellow
Under the yellow designation, most shuttered businesses and daycares will be allowed to reopen, but must maintain safety standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing masks, enforcing social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas, and taking additional measures if a COVID-19 exposure is confirmed at a business.
Businesses involving close personal contact, such as hair and nail salons, fitness centers and massage and tattoo parlors, must remain closed under yellow status.
A detailed list of yellow phase guidelines, precautions and other information can be found on the county’s COVID-19 Economic Resources Portal.
County Commissioners Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, Bob Harvie and Gene DiGirolamo hailed Wolf’s announcement as welcome news for the county. They cautioned residents to continue practicing safety measures to avoid returning to red status and to move the county more quickly to green.
“Our goal is going to green,” Marseglia said. “But the way we do that is by keeping ourselves and others safe. That means six-foot distancing. That means you need to have a face covering on wherever you go.”
The move to yellow is “something we’ve fought very hard for,” Harvie said. “The Bucks County Commissioners were the ones who really started petitioning to make sure that all different kinds of metrics were being looked at.”
Harvie said the commissioners “feel very strongly, the three of us, that the ideas we had here in Bucks County really did move the ball forward.”
The commissioners thanked residents and businesses for their sacrifices in following the guidelines designed to flatten the curve of infection and enable the county to reopen.
“Those sacrifices aren’t over yet. We still have to be very, very cautious,” Harvie said. “We still have this virus that is in our community … We need to make sure that we are following all the protocols so that we can continue to have this virus go further and further into our memories.”
DiGirolamo thanked Wolf for allowing the county to re-open, calling it “something that we’ve been working really, really hard to get to.” He praised Damsker and the Health Department for performing contact tracing since the initial coronavirus outbreaks began here, equipping the county with meaningful data to argue for relaxing the shutdown.
“They have stayed on top of everything with all these numbers,” DiGirolamo said. “We really made a wonderful presentation to the administration this week on why we should be allowed to move to yellow.”
Bucks County has been under coronavirus-related restrictions since March 13, when Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown of all public schools. A day later, he issued a shutdown order for non-essential businesses in Bucks County, expanding that to a stay-at-home order issued March 23 that eventually extended to all 67 Pennsylvania counties.
Wolf’s announcement on May 22 places Bucks among the final 10 counties expected to move from red to yellow by June 5. The other counties are Berks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery and Philadelphia. Those moving to yellow on May 29 are Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill counties.
Seventeen counties currently in yellow status will be the first group moving to green on May 29. They are Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren Counties.
“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,” Wolf said today. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time.”
The Bucks County Health Department today reported 44 new COVID-19 infections and seven coronavirus-related deaths. All of the decedents, ranging in age from 67 to 97, had underlying health conditions, and five lived in long-term care facilities.
Of the 44 new cases, 19 were among residents or workers at long-term care facilities, seven were through household contacts, three are healthcare workers, three were infected at other workplaces, and two were attributed to community spread. Ten were unable to be interviewed today.
A total of 110 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, 23 in critical condition and on ventilators. Bucks County has had a total of 4,580 positive cases during the pandemic, 418 of whom have died and 1,407 of whom are confirmed to have recovered.
Statistics, charts and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com.