Wolf to lift most COVID restrictions May 31; mask mandate to continue until 70% get 1st vaccine

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

The battle against COVID-19 has been a long — and difficult  — one, but it appears rising vaccination rates and dropping infection and death rates will allow the commonwealth to end most of its pandemic-related restrictions at the end of this month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday, while also setting a vaccination goal to end the state’s mask mandate.

Tuesday afternoon, the Wolf Administration announced, in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force,  that mitigation orders except masking will be lifted on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31 at 12:01 AM.  That means returning virtually all businesses to normal, from offices to restaurants to movie theaters.

“We continue to make significant progress in the fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and as more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with our reopening efforts,” ​Department of Health (DOH) Acting Secretary Alison Beam said in a statement. “I encourage Pennsylvanians to take the critical steps needed to put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated, follow through with both doses if you receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and continue to take steps like masking, frequent hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing.”

While full restaurants, ballparks, movie theaters will likely be a welcome sign that the pandemic is finally entering its final stage, the end of mask requirements may signal more of a return to normal life — but that is one that will require going from 50.4% of the above 16 population having gotten at least one shot to 70% — meaning more than two million Pennsylvanians will need to get their first shots to end masking. At the current pace of shots — even as the pace of shots continues to slow nationally —  the commonwealth will not reach that milestone until late June.

The current order requiring Pennsylvanians to wear masks will be lifted when 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated. Face coverings are required to be worn indoors and outdoors if you are away from your home. In accordance with the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, fully vaccinated Pennsylvanians are not required to wear a mask during certain activities, particularly those outside and not in crowded situations.

Despite these positive development, the pandemic is not ending anytime soon.

Requirements such as testing and reporting ​new cases will remain in place for hospitals and long-term care facilities. Officials say keeping those requirements for hospitals and long-term care facilities wi​ll allow the commonwealth to continue to closely monitor COVID-19 spread while lifting other restrictions.

DOH continues to recommend that Pennsylvanians refer to CDC guidance and recommendations regarding ongoing COVID-19 safety measures and procedures.

While the state is easing up, local authorities continue to have the right to impose stricter restrictions.

The governor’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic remains in place.

All Pennsylvanians ages 16 and older are eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine. The provider map is available on the Department of Health’s website. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.

More information is available on the COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

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