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Centre County thanks residents for vigilance

BELLEFONTE — Despite 96 cases of COVID-19 in the county, Centre was one of 24 counties around the state to get the yellow light from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday afternoon. The county will officially go from red to yellow at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, May 8.

Joining Centre will be Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.

Wolf said the decision is based on low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing and appropriate population density to contain community spread.

“Over the past two months, Pennsylvanians in every corner of our commonwealth have acted collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf said. “We have seen our new case numbers stabilize statewide and while we still have areas where outbreaks are occurring, we also have many areas that have few or no new cases.”

Chair of the Centre County Board of Commissioners, Michael Pipe, was pleased to see Centre County turn yellow.

“The residents of Centre County are to be thanked for their vigilance when it comes to social distancing, universal masking, and hand-washing. Centre County is one of the largest counties of the 24 counties that are moving from the red phase to the yellow phase on May 8,” Pipe said via e-mail. “Together, we have done the hard work of keeping our community safe. We should reflect on this accomplishment but our work doesn’t end on May 8. We don’t want to go back to the red phase. In order to stay in the yellow phase, and ultimately move to the ‘new normal’ in the green phase, we must continue to be vigilant. During a pandemic, vigilance saves lives.”

Centre, along with the rest of the Commonwealth, is currently in the red phase. The red phase entails a stay-at-home order and closure of “non-life-sustaining” businesses. When counties move to yellow, stay-at-home restrictions will be lifted but telework must continue where possible. Businesses with in-person operations must follow safety orders. Child care facilities can open, provided they comply with guidance.

Restrictions for nursing and personal care homes and prisons will remain in place and schools will remain closed for in-person instruction.

In-person retail will be permitted, but curbside and delivery service are preferred. Gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited.

Indoor recreation and health and wellness facilities such as gyms and spas, hair salons, nail salons and massage establishments will remain closed, as will all entertainment, such as movie theaters and casinos. Restaurants and bars will continue to be limited to takeout and delivery.

Pipe talked about the significance of yellow in relation to businesses.

“Moving into the yellow phases allows certain local businesses to reopen in Centre County. They will be required to follow CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines in order to reduce the chance we move back into the red phase. Let’s support our local businesses now more than ever by proceeding with caution and continuing to remain vigilant against the threat of COVID-19,” Pipe said.

Fellow commissioner Mark Higgins said that the move is significant for small businesses.

“Obviously, this is very important for a number of small businesses, but this is not a cure all,” Higgins said. “There are still a lot of consumers with underlying conditions who will absolutely stay home, but this is a step in the right direction.”

Criteria for reopening includes fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 individuals over a two week period. Centre County has remained well within that metric since the first cases were confirmed in March. Over the last two weeks, the county has had 23 new cases among a population of about 162,000.

There has been one death in the county as a result of COVID-19.

Higgins said that Centre County residents must remain vigilant in their efforts.

“Centre County residents have done a great job staying disciplined and following the guidelines,” Higgins said. “We need to continue to do that. We could always slide back into red and we don’t want that.”

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