PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia and surrounding Pennsylvania counties have entered the yellow phase of the state’s reopening plan. The move comes despite concerns over the recent George Floyd protests spreading the coronavirus. Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley made the announcement during Thursday’s briefing.
“It does look like the epidemic is receding and we do think we can move forward with our next step in the yellow phase,” Farley said.
City officials have been strategizing on how to prepare businesses to move forward with many safety protocols put in place. For instance, retail stores can reopen but in a much different setting.
“It involves masks, barriers like the plexiglass you might see at cash registers, distancing, reducing crowds in buildings so no more than five people per 1,000 square feet,” Farley said.
While the city is following state guidelines for reopening, it is taking a measured approach to public gatherings. The city is not recommending gatherings of 25 people just yet, although the state’s yellow reopening phase is allowing it.
“We don’t recommend those. They can be very high risk,” Farley said.
While outdoor dining is permitted in the yellow phase of reopening, it will be delayed in Philadelphia.
“Given the events of the past week, our team has been delayed in finalizing guidance for outdoor dining in Philadelphia. Instead, we intend to allow outdoor dining to resume for businesses’ existing outdoor seating beginning next Friday, June 12th,” city Managing Director Brian Abernathy said.
Farley says he does have some concerns about the virus spreading during this past week’s protests, but with many protesters wearing masks while demonstrating, he’s hopeful there’s no increased COVID-19 spread.
“We do think the numbers justify us moving to the next phase of our response to this epidemic,” Farley said.
The health commissioner is requiring the protesters to get tested at some point.
Farley reported 121 new coronavirus cases, raising the citywide total to 23,281. There were also 70 new deaths after the city matched databases to coronavirus cases and death certificates, raising the death toll to 1,394. The new deaths reported mostly occurred over the past month.
“At the peak of this epidemic we were getting about 35 deaths per day, now we’re down below 10 deaths per day,” Farley said.
Farley added that 7% of residents who are tested are positive, as that number was as high as 40% at one point.
Mayor Jim Kenney previously said Philadelphia was on track to move into the yellow phase as scheduled for Friday morning. The mayor said the protests have not impacted the plan to lift some restrictions.
Local officials say the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues to improve.
In the yellow phase, some businesses will be allowed to resume operations, but not gyms or salons.
Other counties entering the yellow phase include Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton and Montgomery.
Sixteen Pennsylvania counties entered the green phase on Friday.
CBS3’s Natasha Brown contributed to this report.