The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an unprecedented event that has impacted every part of the globe. Pennsylvania has seen a similar unprecedented burden of COVID-19 and has taken equally unprecedented measures to save lives and reduce morbidity of the COVID-19 virus.
The commonwealth has responded aggressively to the spread of COVID-19, first by working to contain the virus through contact tracing and quarantines for residents who came in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus to slow sustained community spread. When sustained community spread was established, the commonwealth moved to mitigation efforts early in the response by issuing orders to close schools and non-life-sustaining businesses; and to restrict large gatherings. This decision to respond aggressively has proven to be an essential and effective measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately save an unrealized number of Pennsylvanians’ lives.
Mitigation efforts have helped to curtail the spread of COVID-19 so our hospitals can treat patients without overwhelming our limited supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, or beds. Throughout the pandemic, we have closely monitored our hospital system capacity through the creation of a public dashboard, and we have built and distributed millions of goods and materials to help our health care system manage the influx of patients.
PA DOH and PEMA have worked together to develop plans and stand up alternative care sites in the northeast and southeast so when our health care system becomes overwhelmed, we can load balance patients and supplies by keeping patient safety top of mind. At this point, alternative care sites have been identified in other areas of the commonwealth and can quickly stand up should there be a surge in other areas of the state.
As the situation stabilizes, we are planning a measured and strategic approach to allowing Pennsylvanians to return to work safely to prevent a resurgence of the virus. This must be done in the most effective, efficient, and risk-adverse method possible to balance our return to economic stability, while at the same time continuing to keep Pennsylvanians safe by controlling the spread of disease.
We are planning for the days and weeks ahead when we will not only safely return Pennsylvanians to work but return to a different and more resilient Pennsylvania. While we cannot be certain of the future path of this disease, our decisions will be driven first by prioritizing the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians.
To that end, the commonwealth is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to create a data-driven decision support tool that will enable a balance between maximizing the results of our economy while minimizing public health risks. This tool will help better understand the current health and economic status, as well as the inherent risks and benefits to easing restrictions by sector and region.
In consultation with Team PA, PA DOH, PEMA, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Labor & Industry, and others, the administration will develop guidance for businesses, local governments, workers, and customers with the goal of guiding a safe and iterative reopening process.
Pennsylvania plans to proceed with returning to work cautiously. Broad reopenings or reopenings that are not structured around ongoing social distancing, universal masking, or other public health guidance would likely result in a spike of cases and new stay-at-home and closure orders.
Throughout this process, the administration will have guidance in place to support best public health practices. This guidance will reinforce and build on existing worker and building safety orders. It will also be able to adapt to the changing nature of the pandemic, as well as lessons learned from communities that return to work strategically.
Discussed in greater detail below, the administration will utilize a three-phase matrix to determine when counties and/or regions are ready to begin easing some restrictions on work, congregate settings, and social interactions.
The red phase has the sole purpose of minimizing the spread of COVID-19 through strict social distancing, non-life sustaining business, school closures, and building safety protocols. (VIEW CHARTS)