People across a swath of Pennsylvania began opening stores Friday that had been shut down since March as some coronavirus restrictions were lifted, while residents began leaving their homes unfettered by a just-expired stay-at-home order that had been in place since April 1.
Located in a primarily rural swath of northern Pennsylvania, Lawrence and Mercer counties and 22 other counties have been only lightly impacted by a pandemic that has killed more than 3,400 people statewide and are the first to have pandemic restrictions eased under Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan.
In Mercer County, the owners of the Grove City Premium Outlets announced that they have reopened as of May 8.
In a statement Grove City Premium Outlets says:
“The health, safety and well-being of the community we serve will always be our highest priority, and we have developed a thorough and detailed set of protocols highlighting the exceptional measures we’ve implemented for shoppers, retailers and employees as we reopen,” said Carmen DeRose, General Manager at Grove City Premium Outlets. “We also recognize that individuals and families in our community are suffering significant hardship as a result of both COVID-19 and the economic shutdown, and we believe that reopening our property will not only help people get back to work during these challenging times, but also enable us to use our property to further support charitable initiatives.”
At Gerlach’s Garden & Floral in suburban Erie, the garden store and flower shop opened its doors Friday to people seeking seeds, seedlings, flowers, shrubs and more. Social-distancing markers were on the floor, plexiglass was by the register, employees were wearing masks and a huge chunk of its big selling season is past.
“Those weeks we’ve missed, those are gone, we can’t get them back, we cant make them up,” said Adam Gerlach, one of the owners. “So we’re looking to the future, looking to see what we can capitalize on a little bit more these next couple weeks.”
It helps that the flower shop is open in time for Mother’s Day on Sunday — missing Easter was a devastating hit — but Gerlach estimates that the business has lost at least 20% of its revenue for the year.
That said, people were coming into the store, and it felt good to open up and see customers, Gerlach said.
“Letting people in definitely feels good, for people to come in and do their shopping,” Gerlach said. “So far, everyone I talked to is happy to be out and be able to go get stuff.”
Much of Pennsylvania, including its heaviest population centers, remain under Wolf’s strictest shutdown orders, called the “red” designation.
On Friday, he is expected to lift many southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including the Pittsburgh area, into the “yellow” phase, along with the two dozen counties that emerged from lockdown Friday.
The 24 counties are home to 1.5 million of Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million residents, and is about one-third of its geographical area at about 14,000 square miles (21,000 square kilometers).
Along with retailers and other kinds of businesses that can reopen, gatherings of up to 25 people are now allowed. But gyms, barber shops, nail salons, casinos, theaters and other such venues are required to remain closed and other restrictions will remain in place, including a ban on youth sports.
The counties are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.
The Pennsylvania Department said Friday that 200 more people with COVID-19 have died, raising the statewide death toll to 3,616.
The deaths took place over the past several weeks. The Health Department has been reconciling its records with data provided by hospitals, health care systems, municipal health departments and long-term care centers.
Residents of nursing homes and personal care homes account for more than two-thirds of the overall death toll, although the state Department of Health has not disclosed the number of deaths or cases by nursing home.
More than 1,300 additional people have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. To date, the virus has been confirmed in over 54,000 people in Pennsylvania.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have recovered.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.