Yesterday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced his detailed plan for reopening the Commonwealth, with a targeted start date of May 8, 2020, for the North Central and Northwestern portions of the state. The administration plans to designate regions, by county or groups of counties, into color-coded reopening phases—red, yellow, and green. 

The phases will be assigned based on conditions in each region using Pennsylvania Department of Health metrics and a data tool developed by Carnegie Mellon University. To determine when a region is ready to reopen, the incidence rate of COVID-19 cases per capita will be evaluated with a target goal of an average of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 individuals over the course of 14 days. The administration cautions that, even as areas of Pennsylvania reopen, it will continue to monitor public health indicators and adjust orders and restrictions as necessary.

The red phase currently applies to the whole state and has the purpose of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 through strict social distancing, non-life sustaining business and school closures, and building safety protocols.

As regions transition into the yellow phase, some restrictions on work and social interaction will ease, while others will remain in place, such as closures of schools, gyms, and other indoor recreation centers, as well as limitations around large gatherings. During the yellow phase, telework must continue where feasible, but businesses with in-person operations will be permitted to reopen under strict business and building safety orders. In-person retail will be allowed, with curbside and delivery methods preferred. However, restaurants and bars will continue to be limited to carry-out and delivery services only. Child care facilities also will be permitted to reopen under worker and building safety orders. All businesses must follow CDC and Department of Health guidance for social distancing and cleaning.

The Governor’s announcement explains that the purpose of the yellow phase is to begin to power back up the economy while keeping a close eye on the public health data to ensure the spread of the disease remains contained to the greatest extent possible.  

In the green phase, most restrictions will be lifted, including stay-at-home and business closure orders. All businesses and individuals must continue to follow CDC and Department of Health guidelines. The administration emphasizes that, while the green phase will facilitate a return to a “new normal,” it nonetheless will be equally important to continue to monitor public health indicators and adjust orders and restrictions as necessary to ensure the spread of COVID-19 remains at a minimum.

The administration plans first to study conditions in the state’s North Central and Northwest regions, with a target of moving from red to yellow on May 8. Reopening necessitates that adequate personal protective equipment and diagnostic testing are available. Additional guidance and recommendations for Pennsylvania employers, individuals, and health care facilities and providers will be forthcoming in the next weeks.  

Ballard Spahr continues to monitor carefully developments related to the executive and public health orders impacting employers, businesses, and individuals. For assistance with your return-to-work plans, please contact the attorneys in Ballard Spahr’s Labor and Employment Group.

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