CLEARFIELD – Clearfield County is among the first 24 counties with the “yellow” light from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to partially reopen on Friday, May 8.
All the counties moving from the “red” to “yellow” phase are located in the northwestern and north-central regions of Pennsylvania, and are mostly rural.
These “yellow”-phase counties are home to 1.5 million people, or just over 10 percent of the commonwealth’s total population of 12.8 million.
These regions have had far fewer positive cases and deaths during the COVID-19 outbreak. Clearfield County has 21 confirmed cases of the coronavirus while 514 patients have tested negative to date.
Clearfield County Commissioners Tony Scotto, board chairman, John Sobel and Dave Glass discussed the county’s partial reopening with GANT News via a teleconference on Wednesday.
“We’re ready,” Scotto said of the county’s move from the “red” to “yellow” phase, adding local businesses and residents were also ready to open back up and get back to work.
“We’ve been in contact with Penn Highlands Healthcare, and more tests are available. As long as everyone is careful and follows the rules, it’ll get better.”
Glass, however, was hesitant to say the county was “ready.” Because decisions are data driven, he felt more than 500-plus tests were necessary among the county’s roughly 80,000 residents.
At the same time, he said it was understandable Clearfield County couldn’t remain on lockdown forever without there having been a major wave of COVID-19 cases.
“Our hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed …. and we haven’t seen a wave of virus cases here, but it could still happen,” Glass said. “We have to be prepared.”
Under the yellow phase, telework must continue, if possible, and businesses with in-person operations must follow safety orders. Childcare centers may also reopen.
In-person retail will be allowed, though curbside and delivery alternatives are more preferable. Restaurants and bars will remain limited to carry-out and delivery.
Indoor recreation, like health and wellness facilities, gyms and spas, and all entertainment, like casinos, theaters, etc., must remain closed.
Under the “yellow” phase, Glass said the “biggest change” is simple. He said before all non-life-sustaining businesses had to close, but that will be reversed with strict safety guidance in place.
“All businesses are allowed to reopen, except those explicitly specified to remain closed,” he said. “… The vast majority of businesses can reopen at least on a limited basis.”
Sobel said the governor’s office is well aware of the frustration with having hair salons and barber shops remain closed. However, the commissioners said it’s a matter of balancing safety and necessity.
Other restrictions will also remain in place for prisons and congregate care facilities; schools will remain closed for in-person instruction through the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.
Though stay-at-home orders will be lifted for counties in the “yellow” phase, the Wolf Administration is urging “aggressive mitigation” and prohibiting “large gatherings” over 25 people.
And the commissioners strongly agree. Scotto said the county’s travel advisory will be lifted, and residents will be able to leave their homes for more than essential trips.
However, Glass and Scotto said while residents have family and friends living out of the area, they strongly advise them against traveling to larger cities such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
“[The governor’s red-yellow-green approach] has been likened to a traffic light,” Sobel said. “Red – of course- means ‘stop’ and yellow to ‘use caution.’”
Sobel said the commissioners would like residents to use caution with hopes that the county will move from “yellow” to “green” –sooner rather than later.
Glass said one of the biggest misconceptions making its rounds throughout the county is that there’s a timeframe to move from “yellow” to “green.”
“I’ve heard folks say … ‘it’s going to be four weeks, eight weeks, 10 weeks,’ he said, “because they read it somewhere on the Internet or heard it from a friend.
“None of that is accurate, and everything … indicates that data will drive this decision. If cases stay low, it may not be long at all until we are in the green.
“If we get a major spike, we could be stuck here or worse be forced back into the red. No one wants that, but are fate is largely in our own hands.”
Scotto, Sobel and Glass remind county residents that masks are still required to enter public buildings, emphasizing: “your mask protects me, and my mask protects you.”
The commissioners said anyone who feels sick should stay at home and contact their doctor if they feel any of the symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, shortness of breath, fever, sore throat).
Scotto, Sobel and Glass said local businesses are also being advised to disinfect work spaces beyond what’s normal and to limit the number of employees and patrons.
Sobel said he’s been impressed with how well county residents have adjusted and changed to new lifestyles and work-styles to help others. “Keep that attitude.
“If a business requires you to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you’re asked to wait outside, wait outside,” he said, “and don’t grumble about it. Don’t make this any harder on them.”
“This is a big step, a welcomed step, for our area,” Glass added, “but we’re not out of the woods yet. Enjoy the steps toward normalcy, shop local, support our businesses, but be careful.”
The commissioners concluded: “We really are all in this together, and only together can we keep moving toward ‘green,’ and something approaching the normal we were used to before March.”
PA Post contributed to this article.