HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania will gradually reopen its economy using a “regional, sector-based approach” and a modeling tool that will help public officials decide when it’s safe, according to a plan outlined Friday by Governor Tom Wolf.
The plan offered few details. It does not include a timetable or spell out the metrics that Wolf and his administration will use to decide that Pennsylvania can begin emerging from the coronavirus pandemic after weeks of social distancing.
Wolf called the plan a “framework” and said he would lay out more concrete steps next week.
“There is no magic wand to wave to get us back to where we want to be,” said Wolf, unveiling his “Relief, Reopening, Recovery” plan at a video news conference Friday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, we cannot flip a switch and reopen the commonwealth. There’s not going to be one big day,” Wolf said. “We need to be smart and make data-driven decisions.”
The Democratic governor has imposed a series of progressively tougher measures in the face of a pandemic state officials say threatened to swamp hospitals and spike the death toll. COVID-19 has sickened nearly 30,000 Pennsylvania residents and killed more than 750.
Wolf shut down businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining,” closed schools through the end of the academic year and ordered all 12.8 million Pennsylvania residents to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Just this week, the Wolf administration ordered people to wear masks inside supermarkets, pharmacies and other stores.
State health officials have said the restrictions have worked to slow the rate of infections and prevent hospitals from running out of bed space, ventilators and other supplies.
But the pandemic and Wolf’s business shutdown order have caused economic devastation, throwing at least 1.4 million Pennsylvania residents out of work. Wolf has been under increasing pressure from Republicans, small business owners and others to relax the restrictions. Protesters plan to gather Monday in Harrisburg to demonstrate against the shutdown.
Under Wolf’s plan, employers and other organizations that are permitted to reopen will be required to follow guidance from the state Department of Health and other state agencies, and will have to close again if there’s a “significant” COVID-19 outbreak.
A “strong testing regime” must be in place in areas that are permitted to reopen, along with a monitoring and surveillance program. And limitations on mass gatherings will remain in place for the duration of the reopening process, according to plan documents.
The state needs to be careful and deliberate about reopening the economy, with the flexibility to respond to new outbreaks, Wolf said. Doing otherwise, he contended, would prolong the crisis.
Wolf’s plan comes a day after President Donald Trump, pressing to restart the ravaged U.S. economy, gave governors a road map for economic recovery. The White House guidance said that states should see a “downward trajectory” of documented cases over a 14-day period. Wolf’s plan does not mention the two-week metric.
Wolf acknowledged Trump’s guidance to the states but said he wanted to have a plan that “respects the reality” on the ground in Pennsylvania.
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