Wolf gives Huntingdon yellow light
County will move out of red on Friday; Clearfield goes green
On Friday, Huntingdon will become the last local county to move to COVID-19 yellow, while Clearfield and 16 other counties in the northwest and northcentral districts will be the first to go to green — with counties remaining in red leaving lockdown two weeks afterward.
“It’s a beginning,” said Huntingdon County Commissioners’ Chairman Mark Sather, speaking after the announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday. “It’s taken awhile.”
Huntingdon would likely have gone to yellow last week, along with Blair, Bedford and Cambria counties except for a coronavirus outbreak at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon that infected 158 inmates and 51 employees, causing two inmate deaths.
That outbreak has eased, however, with 122 inmates and 34 employees recovered, and it’s likely the Department of Health took that into consideration in easing the county toward yellow, Sather said, crediting state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, for her advocacy.
“It’s nice to be joining the other counties of our economic region,” Sather said.
He’s confident that business owners in Huntingdon will be careful to follow guidelines to keep themselves, their customers and, by extension, the community safe as they reopen, he said.
“There’s still a lot to be done,” he stated. “It’s a slow progression.”
“Really exciting news,” Clearfield County Commissioners’ Chairman Tony Scotto said of going to green.
That can’t mean letting go of all caution, however, as people will still need to observe social distancing and wear masks, said Scotto, reached at M&M Scotto’s Pizza in DuBois.
Scotto is not yet sure what it will mean.
“We’ll be looking to see what we can and can’t do,” he said.
The state will publish specific guidelines for the green phase next week, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said during the administration’s daily webcast Friday.
While Centre County, like Clearfield, was among the first 24 to go to yellow two weeks ago, Centre is one of seven that will remain there for at least another week.
Local officials in Centre “didn’t think they were ready,” Wolf said during the webcast. “We honored that,” he stated.
The counties that will move to green on Friday are generally those that managed to keep their infections stable after the move to yellow, Levine said.
The administration has been monitoring them closely, she said.
The plan to move all the remaining counties out of red in two weeks, including those around Philadelphia that still have high case counts, prompted reporters to ask whether the state is still adhering to its threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days as a prerequisite for moving out of lockdown.
“We never used that metric exclusively,” Wolf said.
Rather, it was used in conjunction with testing, contact tracing and hospital surge capacity, he said.
The state’s testing capacity has increased markedly, so it’s now about 12,000 a day, while the administration’s “response team” is ramping up, he said.
Moreover the new-case rate and the numbers of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and on ventilators has been shrinking, Wolf said.
Those guiding the administration’s effort know more about the disease than they did three weeks ago, he said.
He’s confident that Philadelphia and its surrounding counties will be ready when the time comes, he said.
Some critics say the state doesn’t really have a plan, that it’s just making things up as it goes along, one reporter said.
“We’ve always had one focus, and that’s to do all we can to defeat the virus,” Wolf replied.
Twelve counties moved to yellow Friday, most of them in the southcentral and northeast districts.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.
By the numbers
New/total county cases: Blair 2/46 (1 death); Bedford 0/36 (2 deaths); Cambria 0/55 (2 deaths); Centre 2/138 (5 deaths); Clearfield 0/33; Huntingdon 2/223 (includes SCI Huntingdon 158 inmates, 122 recovered, 2 deaths; 51 employees, 34 recovered)
Area new/total cases: 6/531
New/total cases statewide: 866 (down 11 percent)/66,258
New/total deaths statewide: 115/4,984, 7.5 percent of positive cases
New/total negative tests in area counties: 394/9,335
New/total tests in area (new positives plus new negatives): 400/9,866, 1.9 percent of population in Blair; 1.6 percent of population in area
New/total negative tests statewide: 9,229/312,743
New/total tests statewide: 10,095/379,001; 2.9 percent of population
Infection rate (percent of population with confirmed positives) region/state: 0.09 percent/0.51 percent