HARRISBURG, Pa. — Top state officials announced new coronavirus mitigation efforts Nov. 23 as the winter holidays approach and case counts continue to rise.
Gov. Tom Wolf said health officials know more about the virus and have more tools in place than last spring, so they’re following a targeted strategy instead of going back to a Red-Yellow-Green phase system.
The series of measures are aimed at reducing large gatherings and increasing enforcement of existing measures, said Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
Pennsylvanians who travel out-of-state must quarantine for 14 days when they return, or until they can produce a negative COVID-19 test result. This only pertains to leisure travel and does not include people who leave the state for less than 24 hours or children under the age of 11. The same restrictions are in place for travelers who are visiting the Commonwealth.
The Wolf Administration said it will be stepping up enforcement of gathering limits, mask-wearing and business safety. Violators could face $25 and $300 fines.
On November 30, schools in 59 out of the state's 67 counties must sign a form that says they are complying with safety measures or go fully remote.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects that if no further measures are taken, Pennsylvania will have more than 22,500 new coronavirus cases per day by early December and run out of ICU beds by Nov. 30.
In the past week, the number of COVID-19-attributable deaths has quadrupled, and the average daily case count is seven times higher than it was two months ago, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“Transmission of COVID-19 is reaching new heights that we have not yet encountered,” Sec. Levine said. “It has to be our collective responsibility to protect our communities, our health care workers, and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians from COVID-19.”
Dr. Levine issued a statewide stay-at-home advisory—which is not mandatory—and discouraged large Thanksgiving gatherings later this week.
Restaurants and bars will also be prohibited from selling alcohol from 5 p.m. Wednesday to 8 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.
“If we all do this together, we're going to defeat this virus,” Gov. Wolf said. “That's what we should be focused on, not whether we want to get transitory benefit of going out with friends the day after tomorrow and getting drinks.”
State agencies will step up enforcement of the following mitigation orders:
- Out of State Travel
- Business Safety, including telework, occupancy, cleaning, social distancing
- Restaurant Mitigation, including occupancy, masking, social distancing, self-certification
- Gathering Limits
- School Attestation and Mitigation
Businesses will also have liability protection for enforcing the current mask mandate for all public places where distancing isn’t possible.
“I want to do everything I can to keep from trashing our economy the way we did back in March and April and at the same time keep people safe,” Gov. Wolf said.
Gov. Wolf said health officials know more about the virus and have more tools in place than last spring, so they’re following a targeted strategy instead of going back to a Red-Yellow-Green phase system.
Other mitigation measures include new gathering limits:
Indoors, venues with occupancy of 0 to 2,000 people will be allowed 10 percent maximum occupancy, venues with occupancy of 2,001 to 10,000 people will be allowed 5 percent maximum occupancy, and venues with occupancy of more than 10,000 people will be allowed no more than 500 people.
Outdoors, venues with occupancy of 0 to 2,000 people will be allowed 15 percent maximum occupancy, venues with occupancy of 2,001 to 10,000 people will be allowed 10 percent maximum occupancy, and venues with occupancy of more than 10,000 people will be allowed 5 percent maximum occupancy, up to 2,500 people.
Hospitals located in regions with severe COVID-19 surges, staffing shortages or inadequate bed availability will be required to reduce elective procedures by 50 percent for seven days.
School mitigation measures include:
- Schools are mandated to comply with updated protocols if a COVID-19 case is identified in the school building.
- By 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, chief school administrators and the governing body president/chair must sign an attestation form stating they have either transitioned to fully remote learning or are complying with the orders if they are conducting any in-person instruction while in the “substantial” range of transmission.
- Those schools that do not sign or comply with an attestation are required to provide only fully remote learning and suspend all extracurricular activities as long as the county remains in the substantial transmission level.
Business mitigation measures include:
- Social distancing and masking.
- Online sales and curbside pickup for all shopping are encouraged.