Lebanon County to move to green phase July 3

Lebanon County will be the last county in the state to transition to the green phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan on July 3.

The midstate county is the only one still in the yellow after 12 counties moved to the green phase today including Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Susquehanna counties.

“We will soon have all of our counties in green; a milestone worth a cautious celebration of the hard work and collaborative spirit of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “But we must remember that the restrictions that remain in the green phase will help us continue to enjoy the freedoms this phase allows for.”

Lebanon wasn’t part of this week’s green phase transitions because its COVID-19 cases were not yet decreasing at a steady rate and the county still had too high of a percentage of tests come back positive, said Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Department of Health.

Wardle said that the county had a 15% decrease in the number of new cases from June 12 to June 26. The county also had only 6.6% of its COVID-19 tests come back positive, compared to 10.9% the week before.

As of July 3, Lebanon County businesses who could be open in the yellow phase at 50% capacity can expand to 75% capacity. Child care services may reopen, and prisons and hospitals may allow vistors.

Gatherings of more than 250 remain prohibited, masks are required in businesses and restaurants, bars, personal care services, indoor recreation, and all entertainment must remain at 50% capacity.

Senior home restrictions to continue into green phase

Nursing homes, personal care homes and other long-term care providers in the green phase of the state’s reopening plan will continue to have ongoing restrictions for at least 28 days after transitioning to green, according to the Pennsylvania departments of Health and human Services.

The Wolf Administration announced on Friday that it will continue to enforce visitation restrictions on long-term and congregate care facilities to help prevent further outbreaks among Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable populations.

The Department of Health initially issued COVID-19 guidance to facilities on March 18, which included regulations related to visitor limitations and personnel restrictions.

While hospitals in green counties may begin to allow limited visitations, the state plans to continue to enforce regulations at senior care facilities for what could be longer than the initial 28 days announced on Friday, said Teresa Miller, secretary of the Department of Human Services (DOH).

“We must remain vigilant and be deliberate about our actions even as we begin to reopen,” Miller said. “Green does not mean all clear for anyone, and COVID-19 is still a threat, especially for those who are medically fragile and vulnerable. This virus is not gone, and mitigation efforts are still necessary to keep people safe.”

Miller added that that the DOH understands how difficult and isolating the restrictions can be for residents of long-term care facilities and their families and have issued a number of recommendations for families trying to keep in touch with their loved ones.

The department asks facilities to promote that their residents arrange meetings with family and friends through a window or glass door, use software like FaceTime, Skype, Zoom meetings and Facebook Messenger and communicate through phone calls, emails and virtual assistant technology like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.

Business leaders stress need for COVID liability protection

Gov. Tom Wolf will need to expand liability protections to manufacturers, small businesses and more health care providers or risk Pennsylvania businesses refusing to open for fear of frivolous COVID-19 related lawsuits, said a coalition of state associations.

In early May, Wolf signed an executive order that provided legal protections to health care providers against medical malpractice suits related to treatment of COVID-19.

A group of leaders from numerous state associations, including the Pennsylvania Medical Society, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the PA Manufacturers Association, asked the governor to offer similar protection to more industries during a media call last week.

Expanding liability protection to more businesses would protect companies like manufacturers, many of which transformed their productions to help supply goods such as personal protective equipment to hospitals, said David Taylor, president of the PA Manufacturers Association.

By failing to give protections to manufacturers, the state would be ignoring the risk businesses took to support their communities, he said.

“Manufacturers accepted that challenge and brought on that risk,” he said. “It is disappointing that the governor would fail to recognize the contributions made by manufacturers.”

Liability protection could also let small businesses feel comfortable reopening their storefronts without fear that they could be sued if someone contracts the virus while in their store.

“There is a critical question there: do I re-risk everything I’ve built, or do I make the decision to remain closed or stay closed,” said Gordon Denlinger, Pennsylvania state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “Our concern is that we don’t get the reopening we need because of the threat of these lawsuits.”

Proponents of increasing the protections for health care providers say that Wolf’s orders don’t protect as many providers as similar laws in New York and New Jersey, both of which were enacted in April.

While the governor’s executive order protects health care workers providing care to COVID-19 patients in hospitals and nursing homes, it does not protect physicians providing care in their offices from malpractice lawsuits, according to Dr. Lawrence John, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

“As our state reopens, physicians in all of these settings will play a role in ensuring that Pennsylvanians have access to care if they come down with symptoms,” John said. “Since attorneys can’t sue health care workers providing care in hospitals, physicians will be an easy target for these claims.”

The order also excludes long-term care facilities, where 3,557 of the state’s 5,567 total deaths occurred, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Department of Health on June 1.

Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said that the coalition is not condoning blanketed immunity for all health care providers and businesses, but rather targeted temporary immunity with strict guidelines.

“If they disregard the guidelines, they lose the protection,” he said. “We have businesses fighting for survival and we need to get them back as soon as we can. The fear of lawsuits will hinder that.”

16 more counties to turn green June 5

Gov. Tom Wolf announced today that 16 counties will move to the green phase next week.

Eighteen counties moved to the green phase on Friday and during a press conference Friday afternoon, he announced 16 more mostly western and northern tier counties previously will the same June 5.

The new counties include: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clinton, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Lycoming, Mercer, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland.

Counties in the green may host gatherings of less than 250 people, businesses such as restaurants and personal care services may open a 50% capacity and construction activity may return to full capacity.

Other counties in the green as of May 29 include: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.

Hospitals in green-phase counties approved to allow visitors

Hospitals in counties transitioning to the green phase of Pennsylvania’s reopening plan may reopen their facilities to visitors at their own discretion, according to updated guidance released Wednesday by the Wolf administration.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s most recent update to his green-phase guidelines notes that visitation to both prisons and hospitals can resume if they are in one of 18 counties transitioning to green status Friday.

Many hospitals enacted their own visitation rules as early as mid-March. The state’s new guidance gives facilities the option to open their doors to visitors, but reminds those visitors to be diligent about  hygiene.

York-based WellSpan Health prohibited all visitations to its hospitals on March 21 save for a few exceptions such as minor patients and patients nearing the end-of-life.

WellSpan plans to begin lifting restrictions at its hospitals when nearby counties begin transitioning to the phase, said Matthew Heckel, senior media relations and communications specialist at WellSpan.

“Our number one priority during this COVID-19 pandemic has been to keep everyone in our hospitals safe,” Heckel said. “As counties continue the reopening process, the visitation policy for our hospitals and outpatient settings will likely become less restrictive; however, healthy and approved visitors would continue to be required to follow guidelines in place including the wearing of a face covering when in a WellSpan Health facility.”

UPMC Pinnacle began allowing one dedicated, on-site patient support person for each of its hospital inpatients and emergency department patients this month, with hours varying depending on the facility.

Visitors must be over the age of 18 and may be asked about recent travel and potential exposure, according to the hospital system’s guidelines.

“We continue to follow public health guidelines, and our policies will ensure the safety of our patients and staff to lower their likelihood of exposure to any illness including COVID-19,” said Kelly McCall, public relations director at UPMC Pinnacle.

Wolf issues new orders for businesses in green and yellow counties

A new order from Gov. Tom Wolf offers more guidance on what businesses may and may not do as their counties transition from yellow to green under Pennsylvania’s reopening plan.

The updated guidance detailed additional guidance for restaurants in both phases of the plan.

Here’s what it says:

Starting June 5, restaurants in yellow counties will be permitted to offer dine-in services in outdoor seating areas but must continue to keep indoor areas, including bar seating, closed.

Self-service options such as buffets, salad bars and drink stations must also remain closed, and condiments must be dispensed by employees upon request.

Restaurants in green counties may now provide indoor and outdoor seating as long as they provide physical barriers or six feet of distance between customers.

Customers may also sit together at a bar, but must have four or less individuals in their party.

Restaurants in either yellow or green counties have three options when adhering to occupancy limits under the guidance, according to information from the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The businesses can decide their occupancy limits by either limiting the number of customers to 50% of the stated fire capacity, to 12 people for every 1,000 square feet or by arranging the restaurant’s layout so customers aren’t sitting within six feet of another seated table.

The updated orders for green also specify that personal care services, including hair salons and barber shops can operate by appointment, and gatherings of 250 individuals or more will remain prohibited until further notice.

Places of worship, such as churches and synagogues, are specifically excluded from the limitations in the order, but are encouraged to enforce social distancing.

17 counties to move to green phase by May 29

The first Pennsylvania’s counties are set to go to the green phase under Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to reopen Pennsylvania.

Wolf announced said 17 counties will move to the state’s green phase on May 29. On the same day, eight counties still in the red, including Dauphin and Lebanon counties, will be moved to the yellow.

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

Counties moving from red to yellow on May 29 include: Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, and Schuylkill.

Updated guidance now allows swimming pools and summer camps to operate in the yellow phase, and in the green phase, restaurants can resume operations at 50% in-house capacity, according to the Wolf administration’s guidelines.

“We continue to increase testing every day and are continuing to build our contact tracing capacity, as well,” 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.”

The final 10 counties yet to change to the state’s yellow phase will do so on June 5. Those counties include: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton, Montgomery, and Philadelphia.

The remaining counties still in the red after May 29 are planned to move to the yellow by June 5.

“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. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time.”

Former Gov. Ridge asks Republicans to promote clean energy policies

Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge spoke to lawmakers during a symposium on clean and renewable energy on Tuesday. PHOTO/ IOANNIS PASHAKIS

Conservative legislators must remember their party’s legacy of conservation and the importance of promoting clean energy, former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge told lawmakers during a symposium on clean and renewable energy on Tuesday.

Ridge, the nation’s first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and the 43rd Governor of Pennsylvania, spoke at the Clean and Renewable Energy Symposium held by the Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum in Harrisburg. Citing Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, who created the National Park system, and Richard M. Nixon, whose administration created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and signed both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into law, Ridge reminded Republicans not to surrender their history of environmental stewardship.

“Neither party should claim that they are the heirs of one kind of energy or another,” he said, “Let’s be smart, innovative and supportive but as Republicans lets accept the reality that we are blessed with multiple sources of energy and when it’s appropriate to use them lets embrace them all.”

Ridge challenged party members who ignore scientists when writing policy. The former governor said decades of research provided by scientists related to carbon emissions and the improvements that clean energy sources can have on the environment should be at the heart of policy.

As Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, Ridge is known for advancing Pennsylvania’s economic development, education and health care. Under Ridge’s leadership, the state established Growing Greener, legislation that has since funded a number of state agencies to administer farmland preservation projects, state park renovations and upgrades to water and sewer systems.

If Republicans articulate the need for clean, renewable energy policies as not only an issue spearheaded by Democrats, the party will be able to continue to attract new, young voters, Ridge said.

“From my experience, (young voters) are a lot more concerned about where our country is going and what we are doing to our environment than other demographics in the political world,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Conservative Energy Forum is a part of the Conservative Energy Network, a Lansing, Michigan-based nonprofit that works with conservatives in 21 states to promote clean energy policies.