WEST CHESTER — Across the state, Pennsylvanians have waited for their counties to move to the green phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic response plan. And for Chester County and 11 others, the time has arrived. On Friday, June 26, the county is slated to move from the yellow phase to the green phase, ushering in new loosened restrictions.
Businesses that were initially operating at 50 percent capacity can now operate at 75 percent capacity, and many businesses that were closed altogether — including hair salons, gyms, and theaters — can now operate at 50 percent capacity. Childcare facilities are also reopening with restrictions.
Other changes in Chester County include resuming inside dining at 50 percent capacity, allowing gatherings of up to 250 people, allowing sports games without audiences, restarting construction work at full capacity, and allowing hospital and prison visits.
Despite these changes, some guidelines will remain the same. Masks are still required inside businesses, restrictions on congregate care facilities — including nursing homes and group homes — remain in place, and workers who are able to are still encouraged to work from home.
To that end, entering the green phase does not signal a complete return to normalcy. Guy Ciarrocchi, president and CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, said in a webinar about “going green” on June 24 that entering the green phase does not equate to a return to February.
Local business owner Maria O’Connell of Express Employment Professionals compared finding what she called “the next normal” to the aftermath of 9/11. “Now it’s very acceptable for all of us as we go through airport security, and we go through security, and people are checking bags at concerts. It’s the thing you would expect,” she said.
Businesses and business owners have been especially impacted by the pandemic. As the economy has taken a hit, though, County Commissioner Josh Maxwell said, “the county has committed $5 million in small business funding and grants and supported about 250 businesses so far.”
The county’s efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, especially on business owners, are also reflected in the resources provided by Restore Chester County. Its website, www.restorechestercounty.org, “should be a one-stop resource for people who want to understand what the CDC, state, and — if applicable — county guidelines are for reopening in the green phase,” Maxwell said.
Ciarrocchi cited Engagious’ Back to Normal Barometer, saying that “their data show in general terms that about 74 percent of the public is ready to go back to some form of normalcy.” The other 26 percent, he said, are mostly waiting for a medical breakthrough like a vaccine or a proven treatment.
Despite these encouraging numbers, Ciarrocchi also stressed the importance of what he called “the Goldilocks Principle — not too much, not too little, just right.” He encouraged businesses to find a balance of caring for the health and safety of their customers and employees, as well as following state guidelines.
As local businesses and attractions, such as Longwood Gardens, reopen, there are restrictions — both state and self-imposed — on how they operate. “Some of them may have special times (or) special policies on attendance,” said Ciarrocchi.
Even with these restrictions, in towns across Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Oxford, and Kennett Square, restaurants are getting creative with how they serve customers during the pandemic. “West Chester is on the cusp of beginning their restaurant row … on Gay Street, where Gay Street will be closed where all the restaurants are to allow for outdoor seating,” Ciarrocchi said.
West Chester’s restaurant row is just one example of how the community is adapting to the long haul of this unprecedented pandemic, which raises the question: where does Chester County go from here?
“What comes after green, and how do we get there? The short answer is, ‘we don’t know,’” said Ciarrocchi. He added that the metrics that will assess Chester County’s progress include the incidence of COVID-19 cases, the severity of those cases, and the availability of hospital beds, ventilators, and PPE.
“As of today,” he said on June 24, “the Commonwealth has not issued what the guidelines are for what’s after green, other than continuing to remind us that there is a next phase.”
While the future remains uncertain, the move to green in Chester County marks another step for the community towards overcoming the pandemic together.