Which PA Counties Could Move into Green Reopening Phase, and Which Could Go to Yellow Next?: Analysis

“The hope is that we’ll also be making some counties that might even be moving from yellow to green (Friday).”

Greg Pickel/PennLive

(Harrisburg) — Gov. Tom Wolf could announce which counties will be the state’s first to move into the green phase of his coronavirus reopening plan on Friday.

At the same time, some areas still stuck in the red phase, otherwise known as a complete stay-at-home order, could be allowed to soon move into the yellow phase.

“We’re making decisions based on the best information we have, and making the best decisions we can, based on the best models that are always changing and moving,” Wolf said Thursday.

“I’ll be announcing a whole range of counties tomorrow moving from red to yellow, and the hope is that we’ll also be making some counties that might even be moving from yellow to green tomorrow.”

Here’s what we know, and what we predict could happen, as Wolf prepares to make a number of announcements to end the week.

Additionally, if you’re only interested in counties that are waiting to move to yellow such as Dauphin, Lancaster, and Lebanon, please scroll down, as we have two other subsections first.

Reopening rewind

Let’s get some basic information out of the way first.

As of Friday, May 22:

Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren counties will have been in the yellow zone for two weeks.

Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties will have been in the yellow zone for a week.

Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne, and York counties will start their first day in the yellow zone at 12:01 a.m.

Berks, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh Luzerne, Montgomery, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, and Schuylkill continue to be in the red phase.

Based on past weeks, any county moving to a different phase is told that it is doing so one week ahead of time. It stands to reason, then, that any decisions announced on Friday, May 22 won’t take effect until Friday, May 29.

Who could be first up for green?

The Wolf administration has yet to reveal what criteria it will rely on to move counties into the green phase, but we know that they are consulting models from various institutions and hospital systems to make all reopening decisions.

Things like an average of fewer than 50 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, the availability of testing and contract tracing capabilities, hospital capacity, population density and age, and travel into and out of a county are all taken into consideration, among other things. It’s unclear how low that 50 number will drop when it comes to making green determinations.

Our projections below are simply that based on all of the information available, which is dated in some ways, and are far from guarantees heading into Wolf’s announcement. By looking at the data, though, we can make some informed predictions on what might take place.

For starters, it feels like a safe bet that any county moving into the green zone will come out of the list of 24 counties that have been in the yellow zone for two weeks. Of them, the following have fewer than 10 confirmed cases on the 14-day average per 100,000 residents according to PennLive’s math:

Cameron – 0

Clarion – 5.2

Crawford – 1.2

Elk – 3.3

Forrest – 0

Jefferson – 0

Lawrence – 4.7

Montour – 5.5

Potter – 0

Snyder – 0

Tioga – 0

Venango – 2

Warren – 5.1

It has been repeatedly stressed that the case count metric is not the sole factor that goes into the reopening decision, though, so let’s consider some of the other factors.

On a Carnegie Melon University model county scorecard dated May 15, Bradford and Potter counties received positive marks in every category but re-opening risk, for which they received a neutral score.

In the case of Snyder, it mostly fared well on the scorecard save for a negative mark related to ICU capacity, which was also flagged in Tioga county despite otherwise positive showings.

Other counties with zero cases in the 14-day COVID-19 cases risk category also had some troubles on the May 15 scorecard. Keep in mind, however, that the data being discussed above is a week old, and thus Friday’s report could look differently.

Jefferson and Forrest had red or orange marks signaling problematic signs in the ICU and re-opening contact risk categories, as did Cameron. The same can be said for an additional county with a low if not zero numbers, Crawford, while Venango had some concerns about re-opening contact risk and was neutral in the population age risk category.

Put it all together, and without all of the available metrics and no presence in Wolf’s decision-making room, Bradford and Potter appear to be the counties with the best cases to move ahead to green if the governor is ready to take that step, while the rest could go either way based on how some factors unrelated to the case count are weighed.

What about counties moving from red to yellow?

As noted above, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Montgomery, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike and Schuylkill counties are all still in the red phase.

Wolf did signal that some of that group could be given the go-ahead Friday to move ahead soon, and we can make some guesses about which will make the cut by looking at the case count numbers we compiled.

Again, they’re far from the end-all, be-all, but no county has been allowed to access the yellow phase without being in the ballpark of having an average of 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.

By that standard, the following counties are close:

Monroe – 57

Lebanon – 71.9

And here’s where the rest of the listed counties stand:

Luzerne – 82.5

Schuylkill – 89.1

Pike – 96.8

Dauphin – 107.4

Chester – 113.1

Lancaster – 113.6

Lehigh – 131.1

Northampton – 150.4

Lackawanna – 161.1

Franklin – 162.6

Montgomery – 162.8

Berks – 163.6

Bucks – 177.2

Philadelphia – 178.9

Huntingdon – 248.1

Delaware – 259.7

It should be noted that some of these counties have case counts that are very much impacted by either one or numerous nursing homes/long-term care facilities and/or prisons within their borders, and it’s unclear if that will be considered more now than it has been during this week’s decision-making process. Previously, the Wolf administration has said that, since workers travel to and from the facilities, their numbers are taken into account.

With that out of the way, Monroe and Lebanon seem to have a clear path to yellow, while Luzerne, Schuylkill, and Pike are unlikely but at best possibly under consideration for advancement. Dauphin, Chester, and Lancaster can be seen as extreme long shots, while all other counties should have no shot unless a change in philosophy is implemented.

What changes in yellow and green?

Red is the complete stay-at-home order, which currently runs through June 4. We’ve all become familiar enough with what that means, and so we’ll avoid repetition here.

In the yellow phase, some businesses previously classified as non-life sustaining can reopen, such as manufactures, pet groomers, and retail operations.

In the green phase, anything and everything can reopen as long as Pa. Department of Health and CDC guidelines are followed. As of Thursday, we don’t know what Pa. will mandate in this phase as it relates to large groups, capacity in dine-in venues and other indoor entertainment places, or other such things.

You can review the full May 15 scorecard that has been repeatedly referenced in this piece for yourself by clicking here.

PennLive?and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.

PA Post is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom covering politics and policy in Pennsylvania. For more, go to PaPost.org.

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