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Proceed With Caution: A Guide to Pennsylvania’s Yellow Phase

Our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic continues. To get back to normal, we must continue to wear a mask and be mindful of social distancing. On Friday, June 5, the remaining red counties in Pennsylvania turned yellow. On Friday, June 12, Carbon County moved to the green phase. On Friday, June 19, eight more counties will move to the green phase including Luzerne, Monroe, Schuylkill and Pike counties.

But many people are wondering, what do the phases really mean? When can I schedule family get-togethers? Which businesses will reopen and which ones will remain closed? We talked with Timothy Friel, MD, Chair, LVHN Department of Medicine, to get the answers.

What do Pennsylvania’s red, yellow and green phases mean?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has outlined a process to reopen Pennsylvania. The Department of Health partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create data-driven decisions about when to reopen our communities. The goal is to proceed with returning to work/business cautiously and in the safest possible fashion.

The red phase enforces the strictest social distancing measures through closures of non-life-sustaining businesses and schools. The yellow phase lifts some restrictions on nonessential work and social gatherings. The green phase, as you might expect, is the least strict of the three. However, it does not mean the pandemic has stopped. The green phase is meant to facilitate a “new normal” with some ongoing safety protocols still in place to reduce likelihood of transmission. We can easily return to the red phase if our community doesn’t adhere to safety guidelines.

What are the guidelines for Pennsylvania’s yellow phase?

The stay-at-home orders will be lifted for all residents. Retail locations will be open to the public, and child care centers will reopen as well. Groups should be limited to no more than 25 people. When in a group, you are still encouraged to implement safe practices – stay at least 6 feet away from each other, wear masks, wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.

What businesses will remain closed in the yellow phase?

Restaurants will be permitted to offer pickup or delivery, and starting June 5, restaurants in the yellow phase can also offer outdoor seating. Gyms, spas, hair salons and nail salons will remain closed. Employees who are not able to telework will be permitted to return to their workplace.

Will I still be required to wear a mask in public?

Yes, everyone is still required to wear face masks inside of businesses. Some people may carry the coronavirus without experiencing any symptoms, while the virus may be life-threatening to others. Although there are some known risk factors, it is still unknown how each person will respond to COVID-19. A cloth face mask is not intended to protect the person wearing it – it is a way to protect those who are the most vulnerable in our community.

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets that can be created when someone coughs or sneezes. A cloth mask keeps those droplets from traveling through the air.


When is it safe to reunite with family members who live outside of the household?

This really depends on the individuals in your family. Have they truly quarantined for at least 14 days? Is anyone in the family in a high-risk category for complications related to COVID-19? All of these questions should be considered before reuniting with family members who don’t live in your household. Remember that even when you feel healthy, you can be an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19. Social distancing not only protects you, it protects your loved ones as well.

Since gatherings of 25 people or less are permitted with the yellow phase, does that mean it’s safe to invite groups of people to my home?

If at all possible, avoid large gatherings. If you do invite people over, rethink the traditional ways you would spend time together. Sit outside where air is well circulated and you have space to spread out. A light wind can disperse the virus quickly. If the group moves inside, open windows to create a cross breeze. An air conditioner is not enough to create proper air circulation. When the coronavirus spreads into stagnant air, the quantity of the virus increases along with your chance of infection.

Remember to not share drinks or food, wear face masks and keep hand sanitizer nearby.

Place of worship

Under what conditions will it be safe to attend a place of worship?

Under the guidelines of the yellow phase, there should not be any gatherings of more than 25 people. If you are attending a place of worship with 25 people or less, make sure you are still being COVID-SMART. Many places of worship are implementing safety measures to encourage healthy habits during the pandemic, but it is important to continue practicing the principles you already know – wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, wear a face mask and stay home if you’re feeling ill. While in the group, remain socially distant by maintaining 6 feet of space between you and others.

Check with your place of worship to see if it offers a remote option through Zoom or video. This can be a good replacement especially if you are at risk for complications from COVID-19.

Outdoors and vacations

Is it safe to travel?

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making this decision. Are you traveling by car or will you be on a plane with strangers? What do you plan to do at your destination? Will you be in an area where social distancing is difficult?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises against nonessential international travel saying, “If you choose to travel internationally, you might not be able to get back.” Many countries have implemented travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closed borders or prohibited non-citizens from entering with little notice. Likewise, airlines have canceled many international flights, and in-country travel may be unpredictable. If you choose to travel internationally, know that your travel plans may be disrupted.

Weigh the pros and cons of putting yourself and your family at risk for infection when scheduling travel plans.

How can I travel safely by plane?

This is a challenging question. According to the CDC, “Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily.” That being said, we know that groups of 25 or more are discouraged by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a commercial plane can hold anywhere from 100-875 passengers. Traveling on a plane is a risk, and you should make a thoughtful decision about whether your travel is necessary. If you do travel, keep your mask on as much as possible and avoid eating and drinking on the plane.

Are pools and beaches safe?

There is currently not a lot of guidance about transmission of the coronavirus by water, it’s clear that the risks for infection do not simply disappear when you are spending time beachside or poolside. Because of this, we encourage people to take the same COVID-19 safety measures as they would anywhere else. Since it’s hard to wear a mask while swimming, it’s best to stay with people in your “bubble.” If you visit a beach that is crowded, consider coming back when social distancing will be easier to accomplish.

Is it safe to go camping?

If you are camping with members of your household and your campsite is distant from others, then yes camping is safe. However, crowded campgrounds and campgrounds with common facilities, like restrooms and picnic tables, can increase your risk for infection. Many local, state and national parks have closed for this reason.

When planning a camping trip, make sure to consider your access to medical care. If an emergency happens, the closer you are to a health care facility the better.

Looking ahead

We are continually learning about COVID-19 and how it is spread to others. Continually check the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health website, the CDC website and LVHN.org/COVIDSTRONG to stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 guidance.

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