What Everyone Needs To Know Right Now
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has laid out a Three-Phase Plan for Pennsylvania (“the Plan”) to gradually reopen businesses and public spaces in the wake of his COVID-19 “stay at home” order. All of the published details of the Governor’s full Plan for Pennsylvania may be found on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website.
Because the Plan involves many details, we have prepared this “crib sheet” summary for clients and local businesses who want to understand the key points without having to navigate the weeds.
Please note that the Governor’s Office will continue to regularly update its website and available information. The Plan is constantly in motion. The information provided below is the information available as of Thursday, April 30, 2020. If there are portions of the Plan that are particularly important to you or your business, please double-check the Governor’s website for any changes or additional details pertaining to your situation. Of course, the attorneys at The Lynch Law Group are closely watching the details as well, and are always ready and available to help clients navigate through these times.
The Plan lays out three Phases: Red, Yellow, and Green. Pennsylvania is currently in the “Red Phase,” the name given to the current reality Pennsylvania residents have been dealing with since March. As long as Pennsylvania (or a region) stays in the Red Phase, this will mean only life-sustaining businesses will be permitted to operate, the “stay at home” order remains in place, and restaurants and bars will only be able to serve customers via carry-out and delivery.
Moving to new phases of the Plan will be based on data-driven standards. The variables the Governor is using to make reopening determinations are: the number of new COVID-19 cases, the availability of medical resources (including personal protective equipment), and the availability of certain testing and tracking procedures. The Governor’s office is (at least initially) looking to reopen based on geographic regions, with six regions (Southeast, Northeast, North Central, South Central, Southwest, and Northwest) having been identified at this time. Governor Wolf is currently targeting May 8, 2020, as the date where some regions of Pennsylvania may move into the Yellow Phase (discussed below), with Northwest and North Central regions being the most likely to move to the Yellow Phase on that date. However, as of the date this article was first published, no concrete transition date had been confirmed for any region.
The Yellow Phase
As regions of Pennsylvania meet the data-driven criteria, they will be moved into the “Yellow Phase.” When a region enters the Yellow Phase, the strict “stay at home” order will be lifted and many businesses will be permitted to reopen. However, regions in the Yellow Phase will still be observing strict safety and social distancing measures. In the Yellow Phase, large gatherings (25 or more) will remain prohibited. Gyms, spas, casinos, theaters, and other indoor recreational businesses will stay closed. Businesses able to continue working remotely will be expected to do so. In-person retail will be permitted to some extent. Bars and restaurants will still be limited to providing carry-out and delivery orders. Most other businesses that require in-person operations may have staff on-site, but must continue to follow CDC and Department of Health guidelines for social distancing and cleaning. Businesses will also be required to post various documents informing customers and employees of the safety requirements at any given establishment.
To advance into the Yellow Phase, the Plan says it has a “target goal for reopening” set at “fewer than 50 new, confirmed and reported cases per every 100,000 people over the previous 14 days.” The Governor has confirmed that Pennsylvania is utilizing the modeling dashboard created by Carnegie Mellon University to evaluate data and make reopening decisions. Some data on current caseloads and equipment availability is available at the public-facing dashboard. The Governor has cautioned that total reported cases and total new cases are NOT strict bright-line indicators that any region is prepared to move to the Yellow Phase. As the Plan website puts it, the purpose of the new case data is to inform decision-makers, not to make decisions. Decision-makers will consider new case data along with the following to determine whether an area is ready to move to a new phase:
- There must be sufficient testing available;
- There must be a contact tracing infrastructure in place; and
- High-risk settings must be identified and must be utilizing adequate safeguards and have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
Additionally, decision-makers will evaluate the risk profiles of various industries in a given county or region. According to the Governor’s website, the Yellow phase will focus on businesses with “low and moderate risk profiles,” taking into consideration the number of workers, the amount of space the workers have, whether work is taking place indoors or outdoors, and whether they have sufficient resources to implement the safety measures set forth in the Order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Directing Public Health Safety Measures for Businesses Permitted to Maintain In-person Operations.
The Green Phase
When a region moves into the “Green Phase,” this will mean that most (if not all) work and social restrictions will be lifted. However, the Governor’s Plan mandates that individuals and businesses will still be obligated to follow all CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health Guidelines in place at that time. The Plan refers to the Green Phase as the “New Normal.”
What About Returning to “Normal”?
In terms of moving from the Yellow Phase into the Green Phase, the Plan does not set out either concrete numbers or a timeline. Indeed, the Plan goes to great length to caution that continuous monitoring and adjustment will be necessary (and should be expected). If a region enters the Yellow Phase and then experiences a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, the Plan may force that region back into the Red Phase. Details within the Yellow Phase (which businesses can operate with staff on-site, for instance) may be subject to change depending on the emerging data. Above all else, the Plan makes one thing clear: as long as COVID-19 presents a threat to public health in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians should expect some health and safety guidelines and restrictions. For instance, the Plan indicates that even during the Green Phase, some restrictions to protect vulnerable populations will likely remain in place.
Since the beginning of this crisis, the attorneys of The Lynch Law Group have monitored this ever-changing paradigm and advised our clients at each step. We are available to help you determine the best strategies to maneuver through these changing times.