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Going ‘green’

Warren County among those further removing restrictions on May 29

Warren County is going green in one week.

It’s not like a green light at an intersection. There will still be many restrictions in place.

On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that 17 Pennsylvania Counties — including Warren County — would be moved into the green phase effective Friday, May 29.

“Counties that have been in the yellow phase for the requisite 14 days have been closely monitored for the risk associated with transitioning to the green phase,” Wolf said Friday.

Restaurants and bars, entertainment venues including theaters, and personal care services like hair salons and spas, will open at 50 percent capacity.

That is great news for many businesses, but the pandemic and its restrictions may have been too much for some.

“The past weeks have been devastating to our local economy,” Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Jim Decker said. “No business, regardless of size or industry sector, has not been impacted by the COVID-19 imposed closures.”

“We move to ‘green’ next Friday… not a day too soon and perhaps numerous days too late for some,” Decker said. “We will continue to seek out and provide to local businesses meaningful and accurate information on how they are to operate within this phase and encourage everyone to continue to support your local businesses and community at large.”

Despite the negative impacts to business, the situation in the county could be worse.

“Conversely, we have been extremely fortunate to have been spared the compounding challenges of wide-spread direct engagement with the virus,” Decker said. “Together we can keep Warren County safe and prosperous.”

“The green phase eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to allow the economy to strategically reopen while continuing to prioritize public health,” Wolf said. “While this phase will facilitate a return to a ‘new normal,’ it will be equally important to continue to monitor public health indicators and adjust orders and restrictions as necessary to ensure the spread of disease remains at a minimum.”

To that end, businesses must continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidance for social distancing and cleaning.

“In the green phase, we will continue to take precautions, including reducing building capacity, encouraging teleworking, limiting visitation in certain high-risk environments, and preventing large entertainment gatherings,” Wolf said.

Workers who were able to do their work from home in the other phases are encouraged to continue to do so, according to Wolf’s green phase explanation. Businesses with in-person operations “must follow updated business and building safety requirements. All businesses operating at 50 percent occupancy in the yellow phase may increase to 75 percent occupancy.”

Child care providers may open as long as they comply with the guidance from the appropriate entities.

Restrictions remain in place for congregate care settings.

Schools are subject to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidance. That represents no change to Warren County School District. The governor already called off the end of the 2019-2020 school year. He has made no declarations regarding the 2020-2021 school year, although Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera has said he expects students to return to schools in person in the fall.

Prisons and hospitals will have restrictions determined individually.

No specific guidance has arrived for Warren General Hospital. For the time being, the hospital will move forward under its current precautions and personnel will work on what needs to happen as the community sees fewer restrictions.

“We have not received any direction or mandates,” Warren General Hospital CEO Rick Allen said. “Right now, we will continue with all COVID-19 precautions.”

“Safety of patients and staff is paramount,” Allen said. “We will discuss next week. Of course as more people come to the hospital and circulate around there will be the need to be even more diligent with precautions – masks, hand washing, screening, distancing.”

The definition of ‘large’ is missing, but large recreational gatherings “remain restricted” in the green phase.

That particular language has meant the green phase does nothing to enable the Warren County Fair and the Warren 4th of July festivities to go on. Both of those were canceled in the hours before and after the governor’s announcement.

The Warren County Visitors Bureau is in a tough spot.

“We’re excited to see it go green, but we still have to tap the brakes,” Executive Director Dave Sherman said. “Frankly, there are no events to promote.”

And, promoting the area to visitors in general is a mixed bag.

It would be easy to convince people that Warren County is a good place to get away from the COVID-19 concerns. “Come here because we’re clean and healthy,” Sherman said.

But, bringing many visitors from areas that have been hit harder by the pandemic is not ideal in terms of public health. “Don’t come here, we’re clean and healthy,” he said.

“We’re still going to take a cautious, conservative approach,” Sherman said.

Wolf said Friday that the restrictions have done their job.

“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.”

He cited 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,” according to Friday’s announcement.

The other 16 counties going green next Friday are: Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, and Venango.

Eight more counties will move into the yellow phase at that point.

The final 10 counties that remain in the red phase are expected to move to yellow on June 5.

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