Going green: ‘People just craving it’
By William Kibler
Blair County, along with Cambria and Bedford, will be moving Friday from yellow to green on the state’s coronavirus recovery continuum, along with 13 other counties.
Centre and Clearfield counties moved to green Friday with 16 others — while Huntingdon County was one of eight moving to the yellow phase, according to an announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf.
In the green zone, restaurants, bars, hair salons, barber shops and other businesses that put people in close contact with others can begin again to operate, although with many restrictions.
“It’s probably a week too late, but I’m glad,” said state Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona, saying he’s been hearing lots of complaints from people who want to get their hair cut — or dyed.
“People are just craving it,” said state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, of the near-normalcy represented by green.
Going to green will mean that her 89-year-old father-in-law, G. William Ward, will finally be able to meet every weekday with friends for lunch at the Black Dog in Hollidaysburg, where they “solve the problems of the world,” Ward said.
“This has been an exhausting experience for every(one),” said State Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg.
Gregory is pleased to go to green, but there’s more needed “in terms of our professions and livelihoods and our kids (returning) to school,” he said.
School will be open in the fall for those kids — although there’s likely to be a mix of in-person and online instruction, with fewer students together in rooms, Wolf said during the administration’s daily webcast.
The Department of Education is expected to produce a reopening plan next week, he said.
There will not be a shelter-in-place order in the fall, even if there’s a virus resurgence, Wolf predicted, citing an increase in hospital and testing capacity.
“(At least) that’s the goal,” he added.
Reaching that goal all depends on giving people confidence they’ll be safe, Wolf said, reiterating a favorite theme.
The resumption of school and avoiding another shutdown “go hand-in-hand,” because not all working parents can afford day care, Gregory said.
By next Friday, there will be no more counties in the red zone, as the final 10, all in the east, will move to yellow.
Determining county movement on the color continuum has depended of late on the number of new cases over the previous week, the percentage of positive tests over the previous two weeks and the number of outbreaks that cannot be managed through contract tracing, according to Wolf.
Testing capacity is critical, and it has grown from about 3,500 per day to as high as 13,000 — counting retests to confirm recoveries that don’t appear in the department’s website statistics, said Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
Testing has also become more accessible, with more than 300 testing sites statewide, according to Wolf.
There’s still nowhere near enough testing capacity for “surveillance” testing of everyone once a month, Wolf said.
The state hopes, however, to have tests that can be administered easily by a layman and that will yield accurate results in 15 or 20 minutes, Levine said.
That would help prevent and control outbreaks.
Because of its increased testing capacity, the state has de emphasized one of the main criteria it formerly used for advancing counties to new color designations — whether a county has had fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people during the previous two weeks, Levine said.
“That was really important when testing was not as sufficient,” she said.
It was also a “fairly crude measure,” Wolf said.
“(But) people glommed onto it,” Levine said.
It was never the sole criteria, as the state has always paid attention to testing and tracing capacity, hospital capacity and modeling — including a modeling program created by Carnegie Mellon University, she said.
There are lessons to be learned from what has gone on during the past three months, according to Gregory.
They include ensuring that the national stockpile of equipment for dealing with pandemics is adequate, that nursing homes “are given the proper attention” and that in Pennsylvania, the governor’s office shouldn’t “go it alone” — although the Democratic administration ultimately mirrored the legislative wishes of the Republican General Assembly, Gregory said. But only after Wolf vetoed the bills, he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.
By the numbers
New/total county cases: Blair 0/49 (1 death); Bedford 1/39 (2 deaths); Cambria 0/57 (2 deaths); Centre 1/151 (6 deaths, plus one reported by coroner); Clearfield 1/38; Huntingdon 0/228 (includes SCI Huntingdon)
Area new/total cases: 3/562
New/total cases statewide: 693 (up 10 percent)/60,735 (65 percent recovered), 604 positive serology tests
New/total deaths statewide: 91/5,464, 7.7 percent of positive cases
New/total negative tests in area counties: 286/11,127
New/total tests in area (new positives plus new negatives): 289/11,689, 2.2 percent of population in Blair; 1.9 percent of population in area
New/total negative tests statewide: 9,166/366,970
New/total tests statewide: 9,859/437,705; 3.4 percent of population
Infection rate (percent of population with confirmed positives) region/state: 0.09 percent/0.55 percent
Positivity rate (percent of total tests that are positive) for region: new cases, 1 percent/cumulative cases, 5 percent
Positivity rate for state: new cases, 7.5 percent/cumulative cases, 16.1 percent