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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled Wednesday a reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic, which will on May 8 release those who are from areas of the state that have been least impacted by the virus.
Residents of northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania are projected to be released first. According to the plan, a region will need to average fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents for 14 days in order to begin relaxing the governor's statewide lockdown in the area.
The state has faced more than 35,600 cases and 1,673 deaths as of Wednesday night, but many counties in rural Pennsylvania have reported only a few cases total. More than half of all people who have tested positive in the state live in Philadelphia and its four suburban counties.
“We’re trying to be prudent and careful and we want to keep people safe," Wolf said during a video news conference Wednesday night.
Wolf’s three-part plan is currently in its “red” phase, meaning the state’s 12.8 million residents are ordered to stay at home and only essential businesses are open.
Wolf also pushed up the date that limited building construction work can resume statewide, from May 8 to May 1.
In the “yellow” phase of the plan, gatherings would be allowed as long as they are under 25 people, and in-person retail would be allowed to resume. Businesses could operate in-person unless they are able to telework, in which case they must continue to do so. Restaurants and bars would remain open only for takeout and delivery, and gyms and wellness facilities would remain closed.
Regions would then proceed to the “green” phase, where all restrictions would be lifted.
Last week, lawmakers in Pennsylvania sent a bill to the governor’s desk allowing nonessential businesses to open during the coronavirus pandemic if they can follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) social-distancing guidelines. All nonessential brick-and-mortar businesses have been closed since March 19.
This week, hundreds protested at the state’s capitol in Harrisburg against Wolf’s stay-at-home order being extended beyond May 1. Among the protesters were local lawmakers.
"We've taken this pandemic seriously," said Rep. Aaron Bernstine before listing the many sacrifices Pennsylvains have made because of the coronavirus. "Unfortunately, some people have lost their lives to this terrible virus ... but I tell you who else my heart goes out to -- the 1.5 million Pennsylvanians who have given their livelihoods up."
"Our new normal does not mean that we will sacrifice our freedom for our safety," he added. "Our normal is not taking government handouts allowing us to pay our bills. And we can do all of this without risking lives."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.