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Centre County headed for green virus status

Centre County will go to green on Friday after all.

Last week, when the governor’s office informed the county commissioners that Centre was among 18 counties eligible to move beyond the yellow phase, the commissioners — pressed for time — asked for a delay of five to seven days, until after the June 2 election, to minimize risk for workers and voters, according to commissioners Chairman Mike Pipe and Vice Chairman Mark Higgins.

On the administration’s Friday webcast, Gov. Tom Wolf expressed that request as the commissioners not believing the county was ready to reopen.

During the weekend, however, the commissioners consulted the Department of Health, medical professionals, local business owners and residents, then voted Tuesday to ask the governor to let Centre turn green Friday, despite the earlier hesitation — a request the governor granted.

The initial hesitation reflected concerns that if the county opened Friday, mixing at businesses next weekend would exacerbate the danger of the election — “a 10,000-plus person event stretching across 84 locations,” according to Pipe.

“Community gatherings are a hotbed for spreading the COVID-19 virus,” Pipe wrote.

But the DoH has helped to allay his concerns, according to Pipe.

To help make the election safer, the county has added protections by encouraging all voters to use hand sanitizer that will be supplied at polling places for people entering and leaving and by instructing poll workers not to come if they feel unwell and to leave if they feel sick during their shifts, according to Higgins.

The county will also encourage everyone to wear masks and poll workers to wear both masks and face shields, he said.

In addition, the county will supply pens that voters can use to fill out their ballots, then take home or throw away, to avoid spreading the virus, Higgins said.

Helping to encourage the commissioners to go to green at the first opportunity were business owners for whom waiting an additional five or seven days would have a further hardship, especially in connection with issues created by their acceptance of Paycheck Protection Program loans, which have an expiration deadline, according to Higgins.

“Business owners, and our local economy is hurting,” Pipe wrote.

Those who spoke to the commissioners over the weekend actually shared a wide variety of opinions on reopening, but businesses that aren’t comfortable doing it Friday can wait until they feel better, Higgins said.

The governor’s expression of the county’s reluctance to open Friday wasn’t ideal, according to Pipe.

“(He) did not mention our reasoning, nor did he mention that we had asked for a one-week delay,” which “would have been incredibly helpful,” Pipe wrote.

“It’s a weird, very difficult time,” Higgins said. “We’re trying to balance the risks.”

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