Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania

People wear masks along Main Street in Honesdale, Pa. on Friday, May 22, 2020. Many Wayne County businesses opened on Friday for the first time since March as the county moved to the yellow phase of reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown of non-essential businesses. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP)

When Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced eight additional counties will move to yellow and 17 to green next week, he said residents of counties already in the yellow phase showed Pennsylvania’s plan is working.

“We’ve been closely monitoring these yellow-phase counties for signs of outbreaks,” Wolf said during the state’s daily COVID-19 virtual press briefing.

“We have a few incidents that have caused some concern, but overall we have seen most areas continue to maintain or reduce their COVID-19 new case counts.”

The first 37 counties in the yellow phase have kept COVID-19 reports under the threshold of 50 new cases for 100,000 set as one goal for reopening.

The counties moving to yellow on May 29 include Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

The 17 counties moving to green on May 29 are Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.

The remaining counties will move to yellow by June 5. They include Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery and Philadelphia.

Locally, Cambria County has reported 24 new cases in the past two weeks. That’s 11 cases per 100,000 population.

Somerset County has had seven new cases per 100,000, Bedford has 16 and Blair has 14.

A review of the state data shows the first 24 counties moved into the yellow phase have had an average increase of 55% in total cases, from 770 total cases to 1,195, since Wolf announced the state’s phased reopening plan May 1. Seventeen of those counties will move to the green phase on May 29.

The 24 counties are in the northwest and northcentral areas of Pennsylvania, with less population overall. Erie County is the most populous with 272,061 people, the state Department of Health website shows, citing the Pennsylvania State Data Center at Penn State Harrisburg.

On May 15, another 13 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania – including Cambria, Somerset, Bedford and Blair – moved into the yellow phase.

Since May 1, those 13 counties have shown an increase of 27% in total cases, going up from 2,339 to 2,973.

The state has warned if significant outbreaks occur, counties could be returned to the red phase, closing many businesses and reinstituting the stay-at-home orders.

Daily case counts and an animated trajectory of cases on the Department of Health website show the northwest region has spiked upward recently.

“We are watching those trajectories very, very closely,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said on Thursday. “There is no indication that any of those counties would have to move from yellow to red.”

Northumberland County is the closest to 50 cases, with about 40 new cases per 100,000. The county added 38 cases going from 118 on May 8 to 155 cases on Friday. Its population is 91,083.

Two northern counties with significant COVID-19 reports – Erie and Lycoming – have seen total cases double since May 1. But the two-week reports for both counties remain below 50 cases per 100,000. Erie has had 28 cases per 100,000 and Lycoming’s rate is 21 per 100,000.

Erie, Lycoming and Northumberland are not among the 17 counties moving to green next week.

The 13 southwestern counties have had less significant increases, but have only been in the yellow phase one week.

With 1,739 total cases in Friday’s report, Allegheny County has more than half the region’s COVID-19 cases. Since May 8, Allegheny has added 284 new cases. That’s about 23 cases per 100,000,

There are three other southwestern counties with more than 100 total cases – Butler, Washington and Westmoreland. Their two-week cases per 100,000 are nine for Butler, six for Washington and six for Westmoreland.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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