Yesterday was a busy day in Harrisburg. As protesters gathered outside the state Capitol to demand Pennsylvania fully reopen its economy, Governor Tom Wolf was inside working on extending the statewide stay-at-home order until least May 8th. However, he did leave open the prospect of relaxing some restrictions in counties where coronavirus cases remain low.
Gov. Tom Wolf has extended Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home order until May 8th, setting that as the target date for a gradual county-by-county easing of restrictions in the state. He stated, “We are taking small steps toward regaining a degree of normalcy in Pennsylvania.” But he also cautioned, “This is not going to be resuming operations as they were in February.”
For now, that’s the date when the latest stay-at-home order would expire, and when he will allow “limited construction” operations to resume. As time progresses other changes could be phased in, with Wolf saying Monday that the state’s reopening will occur gradually and tailored to each region.
“We still don’t have a vaccine, we still don’t have an antibody test, and we still don’t have a way to cure COVID-19,” he said. “Without continuing to take precautions, we will all see a resurgence of this deadly virus. So we cannot relax.”
Testing (Lack Thereof)
As it stands, experts say Pennsylvania lacks the testing capability and robust contact tracing that is needed to safely reopen.
Currently, Pennsylvania is reporting roughly 6,000 new tests daily. That number was higher — around 7,000 — in early April. One epidemiologist told Spotlight PA the state would need to increase its testing tenfold in order to answer key questions about the disease and its trajectory.
On Monday, Wolf said that Pennsylvania needs to build its testing capacity, but he stopped short of setting specific benchmarks for it. He also did not specify how low coronavirus cases would have to be before reopening a county.
“My hope is that … we are disciplining ourselves to say by a certain date, May 8, we will have in place the ability to do the testing we need, in the areas that we open,” Wolf said. “And if we see evidence that says we are moving too fast in this area or in this business sector we can retreat. The goal is to keep Pennsylvanians safe, but we also want to give ourselves hope.”
Limited construction operations
The governor also said May 8 is when some construction activity will be allowed to resume. A news release from Wolf’s office said “public and private residential and non-residential construction” will be allowed again on that date, if companies follow safety guidance that the administration will be issuing “shortly.”
We will post the additional safety guidance once we receive them.