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Wolf to announce new openings

Ward, Schmitt hope Blair included on list

Today, as the first group of counties in the state transitions from COVID-19 lockdown red to cautionary yellow, the state will identify a second group of counties that will make the transition at an undisclosed future date, according to Gov. Tom Wolf, speaking Thursday on a webcast.

“We’ll have an announcement tomorrow with more openings,” Wolf said, in answer to a reporter’s question, reiterating a statement he’d made a few minutes earlier.

It’s uncertain whether Blair, Huntingdon, Bedford or Cambria will be in that next round, joining Centre and Clearfield counties, which are among the 24 turning yellow today — although State Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, and State Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona, are both optimistic about Blair, with Ward figuring its opening date would be

May 15.

The administration will be “looking at each county on its own,” Wolf said Thursday — a favorable indication for the local counties that are still red, especially Blair and perhaps Bedford.

The initial opening today followed a regional scheme based on the state’s health districts, with the northcentral that includes Centre and the northwest that includes Clearfield going first, because of low recent case counts in all those districts’ counties.

Since the announcement last week about those districts, lawmakers and others connected with counties that also have low case counts have clamored to open also.

The inclusion of Blair, Huntingdon and Bedford in the southcentral district, which includes seven counties with high recent case counts, promised delays — unless the state abandons its insistence on district-based reopenings.

Administration officials said last week they wouldn’t necessarily abide by the district groupings, but they did so anyway for the initial openings.

Yet Wolf on Thursday reiterated the administration’s intention that the reopenings won’t necessarily conform to district boundaries, saying he isn’t planning to apply “a hard definition of what a region is.”

“That’s good,” Schmitt said about the governor’s statements.

Huntingdon County may have a problem, as there is an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, where there are 109 inmates and 33 employees infected — up 58 and 9 from Tuesday.

Officials in recent weeks have asked the administration to set aside infection numbers for congregate settings like nursing homes and prisons, but state Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine insists those numbers need to be considered, because the employees go in and out, potentially carrying infections with them.

The worry with SCI Huntingdon has spread to Blair, as noted in a letter Thursday to the governor from Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico.

“The only concern to our reopening would be what is currently occurring in SCI Huntingdon with a large number of personnel being Blair County residents,” Pacifico wrote. “What impact, if any, will that have on Blair County in the coming weeks? If the answer to that question is that there is little to no risk associated with that, then we truly believe we are ready.”

Cambria County is in the southwest health district, which Wolf this week indicated the administration is looking at favorably.

Before going to yellow, counties must have fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, adequate testing, contact tracing and hospital capacity, population density that isn’t a problem and a manageable contingent of older people, because they are most at risk from COVID-19.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

By the numbers

New/total county cases: Blair 3 / 28; Bedford 0 / 27 (1 death); Cambria 2 / 37 (1 death); Centre 3 / 116 (1 death); Clearfield 1 / 22; Huntingdon 49 / 109; area new/total cases: 58 / 339

New/total cases statewide: 1,070 (up 20 percent) / 52,915

New/total deaths statewide: 310 / 3,416, 6.4 percent of positive cases

New/total negative tests in area counties: 265 / 5,338

New/total tests in area (new positives plus new negatives): 323 / 5,677; 1 percent of population in Blair; 0.96 percent of population in area

New/total negative tests statewide: 5,378 / 209,873

New/total tests statewide: 6,448 / 262,788; 2 percent of population

Infection rate (percent of population with confirmed positives) region / state: 0.05 percent / 0.4 percent

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