Gov. Tom Wolf announced Friday that Lawrence County will move into a zone of lighter restrictions during the coronavirus epidemic.
The commissioners and all 27 of its municipalities of Lawrence County are grateful that the governor's office had sought their input in his decision, effective May 8, to move into the "yellow zone," along with Mercer and 22 other counties in northwestern and northcentral Pennsylvania.
The other counties in Wolf's announcement Friday are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lycoming, McKean, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren.
•Telework must continue where feasible
•Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders
•Schools remain closed
•Stay-at-home order is lifted
•Gatherings of more than 25 people prohibited
•In-person retail allowable, curbside and delivery preferable
•Indoor recreation and health and wellness facilities and personal care services such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy, and all entertainment venues such as casinos and theaters remain closed
•Restaurants and bars are limited to carry-out and delivery only.
All businesses must follow CDC and DOH guidance for social distancing and cleaning, and they must monitor public health indicators and adjust orders and restrictions as necessary.
Commissioner Chairman Morgan Boyd said the three commissioners and the municipal elected officials all agreed with the decision to advance Lawrence County into the "yellow zone" of the coronavirus restrictions.
Boyd said the commissioners received a message from the governor's office last week, asking for their input about "the restarting of Lawrence County."
The commissioners on Tuesday called all of the borough mayors, township supervisor chairmen and Mayor Chris Frye, to hear their opinions, as well.
"We came to the conclusion that, based on the (coronavirus case) numbers we're currently seeing in Lawrence County, and the economic realities coming down the road, that now is the time to go yellow," Boyd said. "We made that recommendation to the governor.
"Every single municipality we got in touch with gave the same statement, basically," he said. "They're saying it's time to start reopening, and so are we."
Boyd said he is happy that the governor included local governments in the decision-making process.
When the changes do go into effect, however, the courthouse will remain closed to the public, at least until June 1, by an order handed down to the county Court of Common Pleas by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
"We're taking the position that we're following the court's lead in terms of opening the courthouse," he said.
Common Pleas Judge Dominick Motto explained that the supreme court order allows the courts to expand more of othe cases it is hearing, but sets restrictions on numbers in the courthouse. The courts can now hear any cases except trials or those that would draw a large number of people, he said, "as long as we're able to practice social distancing and follow the health guidelines."
Those include protection from abuse orders, pleas, sentencings and other proceedings.
Leslie Bucci, a Neshannock Township supervisor, commented, "Our viewpoint is that we need to get open back up again." Neshannock, which has 9,600 residents, has a majority of commercial businesses in the county, including several car dealerships.
"The economy is killing a lot of these small businesses, and if they don't open up we're going to have a lot more to worry about than the virus," Bucci said.
The earned income tax is not coming into the township from the many people who are laid off, and the township is exempt from stimulus money, she said.
"We won't recover anything we lose. It's a ripple effect.
A loss in funding could mean that the roads won't get the attention, and the township has had to refund to refund a lot of park rentals. Some people have asked to move the dates of their rentals, then the township will not get those revenues this year to operate.
"We totally understand, we're concerned and we don't want people to get the virus," Bucci said, "but as long as people are using common sense, it's time to get this open back up again."
She said that her two fellow supervisors agree with the yellow plan.
"As the lowest level of government, I can already see the ripple effects," Bucci said. "God willing, we're going to get through this without too much damage."