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COVID-19: Bucks County will move to “yellow”

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On Friday, May 29, another eight Pennsylvania counties will move to yellow, and 17 counties will be the first to move to green since a three-phase matrix was outlined on April 17.

The May 22 announcement from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office carries significance to Bucks County and the southeast region of the state, however, in that the remainder of red counties will move to yellow on June 5.

Bucks is one of 18 counties currently designated as red phase counties in the state, and most of them are clustered in the southeast region of the commonwealth. The current matrix is a three-phase color-coded algorithm consisting of red, yellow, and green respectively in order of relaxing restrictions.

Of 67 Pennsylvania counties, 49 have moved to yellow and none are currently green. However, salons, spas, gyms and other businesses will remain closed even in the yellow zone. Other businesses that cannot open in yellow include indoor entertainment venues such as casinos and theaters, indoor dining facilities, and any gathering of 25 or more people.

Among other restrictions, those businesses that can open under yellow are limited to 50 percent maximum capacity and must designate special hours for seniors and high-risk individuals. Masking is required in public buildings with exceptions granted for medical reasons.

School classroom facilities would also remain closed, although childcare facilities may be considered on a case basis. A move from yellow to green would require additional monitoring for 14 days.

Restrictions on capacity are relaxed from 50 percent to 75 percent

Bucks County COVID-19 cases continue to rise, totaling 4,916 as of Tuesday evening, May 26. The 7.5 percent increase over last week’s total of 4,573, however, shows a continued trend toward a flattening of the epidemiological curve. Tuesday’s case numbers were nearly twice that of a month ago and deaths were nearly three times higher, currently at 461.

Pennsylvania has tabulated cases via ZIP code, and the hottest spot in Bucks County is Langhorne with 466 confirmed cases. In general, most of the cases numbers are in the southern half of the county generally bordered on the north by Street Road, the northwest quadrant around Quakertown, and the midwestern section comprising Doylestown, Warrington, and Warminster. However, per capita rates were not calculated per zip code.

Protests, restless business owners and even local politicians have beseeched the Wolf administration to revisit the algorithm to allow for further easing of the restrictions in Bucks County.

The decision matrix is the result of a collaborative effort between the commonwealth and Carnegie Mellon University. Phase transitions are predicated upon risk-based metrics. The analysis measures public health risks against economic needs and relies upon other important elements such as testing and contact tracing as well as personal protective equipment supplies for health care workers.

A May 21 county score card from the support tool rates Bucks red in the risk areas of population density, number of infected workers commuting in from neighboring counties, and 14-day case risk. It scored yellow in available ICU beds per high risk patients. Decisions on reopening are not made at the level of the analysis, but instead are coded and forwarded to the state government where the Wolf administration considers them in the decision to reopen along the three-color phase matrix.

The process employs Team PA, a dynamic nonpartisan partnership between private and public sector leaders geared to developing and implementing programs that improve the state’s economy,

competitiveness, and prosperity. Team PA, in turn, works with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Authority, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Labor and Industry, and other entities with the goal of navigating a safe and sustainable reopening.

Over the past couple of weeks, Pennsylvania has shown declines in hospitalizations, need for ventilator life support, and new cases. The current incident rate is 83.4 cases per 100,000, down from 113.6 cases per 100,000 two weeks ago. In the same period, hospitalized cases dropped from 2,618 to 1,667 – a 36 percent decrease. Ventilator cases also shrank by a third, from 505 to 347.

A letter from the Bucks County commissioners on April 29 to Governor Wolf was an appeal of a per capita benchmark of 50 cases per 100,000 or less consistently over 14 days. Wolf’s office responded that while 50 new cases per 100,000 was a metric, it was weighed against other factors.

“We continue to increase testing every day and are continuing to build our contact tracing capacity, as well,” Wolf said. “We are able to do these things, to be successful, to reopen in this manner because of the Pennsylvanians who have made tremendous sacrifices since the virus emerged in our state.”


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