Pennsylvania preps reopening without mass testing capacity

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration plans to announce Friday which parts of Pennsylvania will begin seeing a step-by-step relaxation of coronavirus-related shutdown directives, although Wolf and administration officials did not project Tuesday when the state will secure widespread mass-testing capacity.

Meanwhile, one of the state’s hardest-hit areas, southeastern Pennsylvania, appears to be past its peak rate of increase in new coronavirus cases, Wolf’s secretary of health said, as the rate has slowed in recent days in many parts of Pennsylvania.

Wolf, in a telephone news conference, didn’t estimate how long it will take to reach mass-testing capacity, and said his administration is working different “avenues” try to secure that capacity.

His administration doesn’t have a “benchmark for where we need to be,” although widespread testing is of paramount importance as long as a vaccine is a long ways off, he said.

“I believe that there’s a pretty broad agreement that testing is going to be at the heart of whatever it is we do, anybody does, to make people feel comfortable and safe and confident that they can go back to whatever it was that they want to do,” Wolf told reporters.

On Friday, the administration will announce which regions or counties can see some relief from shutdown orders by moving from a “red” designation to a “yellow” designation, Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said.

Those changes would take effect the following Friday, May 8, a previously announced date. Amid growing complaints from some parts of the state, Levine and Wolf both said Tuesday that a county’s designation is not necessarily tied to a wider region’s.

Friday’s announcement will come with a benchmark for testing “that we’ll be shooting for,” Levine said. “It will be aspirational, that we would like to get to this much testing in those areas.”

Under yellow, a ban on gatherings of over 25 people will remain, and gyms, casinos, theaters and other indoor recreational, wellness and entertainment venues will stay closed. Restaurants and bars will still be limited to carry-out or delivery, and businesses must follow federal and state guidance for social distancing and cleaning.

In the meantime, even testing every prison inmate and every nursing home resident and employees — places particularly vulnerable to outbreaks — is beyond the state’s ability, Levine said.

Pennsylvania has been dogged by shortages of testing materials like swabs and reagents, Wolf has said.

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