Philly delays green phase of COVID-19 reopening until Aug. 1, at the earliest

Philadelphia had delayed entering the green phase of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 reopening process until Aug 1. The city had targeted to begin the green phase on Friday but is scrapping that plan which would have further eased business and social restrictions in the city.

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said Tuesday that key metrics for the coronavirus indicate that a move to the green phase would be premature.

“Unfortunately, the targets we laid out to go to green will not be met by this Friday,” Farley said.

Of the new COVID-19 cases, the largest increase of patients in Philadelphia has been among residents under 30 years old, who account for 34% of the city’s new cases during the past two weeks. Prior to this period, people younger than 30 represent just 20% of diagnoses in Philadelphia.

Through contact tracing efforts, many of these younger patients have been linked to visits to the Jersey Shore, social gatherings and other high-risk settings, Farley said. 

Earlier this month, city officials pegged July 3 as a target date for the green phase and issued a series of guidelines covering how Philadelphia could safely reopen. At the same time, Farley warned that if momentum were to swing in the wrong direction, Philadelphia would exercise caution.

Last week, amid record case numbers recorded in Sunbelt states, Farley said Philadelphia appeared to be entering a “second wave” of infections. While the increase in cases has been modest and fatalities have dropped significantly, officials said Tuesday that pausing plans to reopen is the best course.

Farley described Philadelphia’s current status as a “modified restricted green phase,” with allowances for outdoor activities or where masks can be worn and reinforced.

Museums, libraries, indoor shopping malls and casinos will be allowed to open in the city by Friday, but no food or beverages will be allowed indoors. Gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed outdoors in accordance with city’s Safe Mode guidance.

The businesses that reopened on June 26 — barbershops, salons and residential and private swimming pools — will continue to remain open. Outdoor dining will continue under the currently established guidelines. 

Indoor dining at restaurants will not be permitted until the city is able to reevaluate progress. Gyms and fitness centers also will remain closed. 

The announcement comes as neighboring New Jersey quashed plans on Monday to reopen indoor dining. Gov. Phil Murphy cited the large number of people seen without face masks and not practicing social distancing at Jersey Shore bars and restaurants among his reasons.

In Allegheny County, Pittsburgh shut down bars and alcohol sales in restaurants amid a spike in COVID-19 cases after the county moved to the green phase on June 5.

But Farley has maintained that Philadelphia must see strong compliance with the city’s mandatory mask order, instituted last week, if residents hope to resume more activities and see them remain open. 

At least 16 states have rolled back plans for reopening as coronavirus infections surged past 2.5 million this week and the national death toll climbed above 126,000.

Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention said Monday the country now has “way too much virus” to follow the model of nations such as New Zealand and South Korea, which have effectively beaten back the virus enough to safely reopen their economies.

“This is really the beginning,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC. “I think there was a lot of wishful thinking around the country that, hey it’s summer. Everything’s going to be fine. We’re over this and we are not even beginning to be over this. There are a lot of worrisome factors about the last week or so.”

Check back for updates on this story.