In announcing his program for gradually “reopening” Pennsylvania on April 17, Governor Wolf laid out a set of criteria that he would apply in determining which regions and counties would be permitted to reopen. (Since then, he seems to have dropped the “region” concept in favor of announcing changes on a county-by-county basis.) On April 20 he released a list of the first counties to reopen, effective May 8.
The governor’s plan envisions three phases: Red (the lock-down phase that southeastern PA is currently in, with stay-at-home orders and severe business restrictions), Yellow (which lifts the stay-at-home requirement and allows many businesses, particularly retail and manufacturing, to open), and Green (which allows all normal business activities, though with on-going monitoring for potential outbreaks).
On May 8, Governor Wolf announced that 13 more counties would move to Yellow on May 15. Then, on May 15, the governor announced that an additional 12 counties will move to Yellow on May 22. With these announcements, the northern and western parts of the state will soon all be in the Yellow phase, but 18 counties (all in the east and south) will remain in Red. No county is in the Green phase so far.
The governor specified several criteria on which reopening decisions are to be based. Foremost among them is a relatively low rate of new Covid-19 cases. He wants to see less than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over the course of a 14-day period before moving a county to the Yellow category. There are additional criteria, including adequate testing, contact-tracing of new cases, and sufficient local health-care capabilities and supplies.
How is Chester County doing? Chester County is still firmly in the Red phase. Of the governor’s criteria for reopening, the 50-new-cases-per-14-day metric is the only one that we residents can directly evaluate. I have downloaded the daily case data from the site at Johns Hopkins University that serves as the main repository for county-level Covid-19 data and run an analysis of the data for Pennsylvania counties.
Chester County has been averaging about 45 new confirmed Covid-19 cases per day, and although it fluctuates a lot, there is no obvious trend. That 45 cases per day works out to about 121 cases per 100,000 residents per 14-day period, given the county population of 522,000. It will need to cut that number by more than half to meet the governor’s criterion for new cases.
The county will presumably also require substantial increases in testing and a massive investment in contact-tracing (reaching out to everyone who has been contact with each case and getting them all tested). But, since we don’t know how the governor is evaluating these factors, we don’t know whether they will be a significant impediment to reopening here.
Despite its failure to meet the governor’s standard for new cases, Chester County is in better shape than most of our neighboring counties. Based on the 50-new-cases-per-14-day criterion, as noted above, Chester County is at 121. That’s not great, but Delaware County is at 275, Montgomery County is at 154, and Berks County is at 198. Of our neighboring counties, only Lancaster County, at 110, is in slightly better shape than we are. The table below shows the calculation for all 18 counties that will remain in the Red phase beyond May 22.
New 14-day case totals for counties that will remain “Red”
|County||Population||14-day total cases||14-day total per 100K|
How about our surrounding communities? In our immediate neighborhood, new Covid-19 cases continue to occur, but the numbers are mostly small. In Kennett Township (where Kendal is located) there have been 16 cases and 1 death. In Pennsbury Township (where Crosslands and Cartmel are located) there have been 6 cases and no deaths. Pocopson Township (where Conniston is located) has not fared as well: there have been 39 cases and 4 deaths (apparently largely associated with an outbreak at the Pocopson Home long-term care facility).
Of the counties that are currently in the Yellow phase, only one (Lycoming) fails to meet the 50-cases-per-14-day criterion. Three of the counties scheduled to move to Yellow on May 22 (Beaver, Columbia, and Cumberland) also fail to meet that criterion. But all four of those counties are much closer than Chester County to meeting it.