Philly’s coronavirus response

What’s allowed during Philly’s ‘yellow’ phase? Here’s everything we know

As the state slowly reopens, the city issued its own guidelines for business and residents.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital


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The Philadelphia region is slowly beginning to emerge from pandemic lockdown.

Under Mayor Jim Kenney’s “Safer at Home” order, several restrictions on life and business activity are set to be relaxed as of June 5 — the date Gov. Tom Wolf said Philly would likely move from his “red” phase to “yellow.”

There’s still plenty of danger that the coronavirus could ramp up again, Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said Friday. “This is not a reopening of Philadelphia,” he warned. “This is a cautious restart of certain activities to get the economy moving.”

There are three main parts to the city’s approach, which is detailed here:

  • Containment: Expand testing, work to quickly identify cases, and “stop the chain of spread”
  • Social distancing: People should still stay 6 feet away from others, avoid all gatherings and wear masks at all times
  • Protecting vulnerable populations: Doing outreach, developing a racial equity plan, providing PPE to nursing homes
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City of Philadelphia

All that filters out to a lot of rules and recommendations that apply during this phase. (You can check out a breakdown of all the details below.)

What if there is a surge? The city will watch several metrics, including confirmed case counts, the trend in case counts, mask use, contact tracing, hospital capacity and cases in nursing homes. There are also two early warning signs that will be monitored.

The first is tracking symptoms of people who show up at the ER at area hospitals. Even if it doesn’t show up in test results, Farley said, if there’s a spike in patients with fevers, dry coughs, or other COVID-related afflictions, that could mean the virus is making a comeback.

Symptoms of patients at area emergency rooms show a spike during the first part of the pandemic

Symptoms of patients at area emergency rooms show a spike during the first part of the pandemic

City of Philadelphia

The second is watching results from smart thermometers that report results to the internet. In partnership with manufacturer Kinsa, Farley said, the city will watch for a surge in fevers among residents.

If either of those warning signs look bad, Mayor Kenney warned, the city could go back into lockdown. “This is — it has always been — a day-by-day thing,” he said Friday.

To avoid a rollback, there’s a checklist of eight things the city says businesses and residents need to do to get society restarted safely. Those are:

  • Masks (everyone should wear them all the time)
  • Barriers (plexiglas or other physical barriers that stop droplet spread)
  • Reduce crowds (although Wolf’s plan allows gatherings up to 25 people, the city is recommending all gatherings be avoided)
  • Distance (keep physical space within workplaces and stores)
  • Isolate (identify folks with symptoms and isolate them)
  • Hand-washing (“Happy birthday to youuuuuu” — keep singing it)
  • Cleaning (keep high-touch surfaces wiped down often)
  • Communicate (proprietors and business leaders should put up clear signs)

“People in Philadelphia have listened to our advice and been very responsible,” Farley said, “they just need to stay responsible as we move into the next phase.”

Here’s everything we know about how to do that. (Click to jump to a section.)

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Transportation and travel

SEPTA continued limited “lifeline” service even at the peak of the epidemic. They closed several transportation stations and picked up enhanced cleaning measures, as did other travel services like Amtrak and Philadelphia International Airport. Still, at least seven SEPTA employees died from COVID-19 complications and more than 250 were sick with the virus.

Early on, Amtrak suspended its Keystone and Pennsylvania trains which ran through Philadelphia to Harrisburg and Pittsburgh respectively.

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Parks and public spaces

Philly’s parks have become hotbeds for social distancing violations and might soon be redesigned to encourage people to stay six feet apart. Outdoor recreation won’t be impacted by the shift into the yellow phase, since Gov. Wolf’s plan doesn’t mention public parks.

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Schools and colleges

Under the governor’s yellow phase, Philly’s schools won’t see any immediate changes. Learning institutions are instructed to remain closed to in-person instruction come June 5.

  • The School District of Philadelphia will remain closed at least through the end of the academic year
  • City officials like Mayor Jim Kenney have said they aren’t sure whether colleges and universities will be able to resume in-person instruction in August.
  • The University of Pennsylvania has outlined four potential learning plans for the fall semester, which range from entirely online instruction, to a shortened in-person semester, or a hybrid of the two.
  • CCP announced on Tuesday that it will host all online classes in the fall — with the exception of some labs that require in-person instruction

Summer camps will be allowed to open with a handful of recommendations, like limiting groups to 25 people max and encouraging outdoor play
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Groceries and food markets

Groceries and food markets; Supermarkets, farmers markets, corner stores

Because grocery, food and corner stores were deemed “life sustaining,” those businesses have remained open throughout the pandemic with various modifications.

  • Grocery stores established safety protocol like: requiring everyone to wear masks, erecting physical barriers between cashiers and reducing capacity inside the store.
  • In the yellow phase of reopening, businesses with inside operations have to maintain 50% capacity, adjust business hours for adequate cleaning time, and limit check-out use to every other register.
  • While farmers markets remain operational, vendors have adjusted their sales operations by enforcing social distancing in lines, discouraging taste tests and prohibiting leisure shopping. Some vendors even require orders to be placed and paid for ahead of time.

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Bars and restaurants

Restaurants and bars, many of which are struggling to comply with changing PPP regulations, are looking toward the “yellow” phase. Unlike some other counties, Philadelphia will not allow restaurants to start outdoor dining service — until further notice. “We do expect to permit outdoor dining at some point in the near future,” said Managing Director Brian Abernathy.

  • Restaurants in Philadelphia can accept walk-in orders for takeout food as of May 26, although dine-in service is still banned. That also means food trucks can resume operations.
  • To-go cocktails were legalized, offering establishments that sell meals a boost to their bottom line. Social clubs (think Palizzi, Messina, Pen and Pencil) are not allowed to participate.
  • Relaxed regulations around outdoor dining have been viewed as a potential stopgap solution. While many U.S. cities have unveiled plans to turn sidewalks or streets for al fresco dining, Philadelphia has yet to announce anything.

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Clothes and retail

With the exception of big box stores like Walmart and Target, clothing and retail shops have been closed since Mayor Jim Kenney’s shutdown order in mid-March. Businesses have relied on online commerce along with business loans and grants to sustain operations.

Under state guidelines, however, retail stores may resume operation with 50% capacity.
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Hair care and beauty

Ultimately, folks will still have to wait to get their hair and nails done.

  • Hair and nail salons, barbershops and spas will remain closed under the yellow phase of reopening.
  • PA Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said that’s because beauticians, barbers, massage therapists and the like are exposed to clients for prolonged periods of time and thereby have a greater potential to expose clients to the virus.
  • They can’t reopen until Philadelphia enters the “green phase,” at which point they may resume operation at 50% capacity.

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Arts and entertainment

The yellow phase won’t bring much change to Philly’s arts and culture industry. For now, the indoor art world has gotta stay shuttered.

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Fitness and wellness

Don’t get your hopes up about hitting the gym on June 5. Indoor recreation is still a no-go under the yellow phase.

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Professional services

Wolf’s yellow phase doesn’t offer any specific guidelines on professional services like accounting, financial advising or law — but it doesn’t open the door for in-person work to resume.

  • Some Pennsylvania law firms have said under the yellow phase, they’re cautiously prepping to get back to their offices
  • Among all businesses, the plan indicates that remote work must continue when possible
  • Businesses that require in-person operations have to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines for cleaning the space

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Construction

When the Wolf administration labeled the construction industry “non-essential” and ordered projects to halt, Philadelphia fought for and secured an extension to safely shut down projects. The state provided waivers allowing select projects to continue, including South Philly’s Live! Casino and Hotel.

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Hospitals and doctors

To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, hospitals discontinued elective surgeries. Medical care facilities and medical equipment providers were allowed to remain open under Gov. Wolf’s shutdown order. Still, some doctor’s offices closed and, while urgent care facilities remained open, many encouraged patients to use telehealth and call ahead before walk-in appointments.

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Trash and utilities

The yellow phase doesn’t outline any specific changes for trash collection or public utilities. For the foreseeable future, it seems these services will continue as they have been — with some service cutbacks and plenty of payment flexibility.

  • Generally, the Streets Department is operating on a 25% staffing shortage right now, give or take depending on the day, which creates pickup delays in some neighborhoods.
  • Philly sanitation crews will continue to pick up recycling every other week, as opposed to every week, through at least June 26.
  • Utility companies are still suspending shutoffs for customers who can’t pay their bills.
    • Water: July 10
    • PECO: July 1
    • PGW: Until further notice

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Government services

Some public programs were stripped to their bare essence to prevent the spread of coronavirus. With the intro of the yellow phase in Philly, some services will return to normal.

  • Pennsylvania’s judicial emergency will end June 1, meaning there’s no statewide prohibition on court proceedings.
  • Still, local jurisdictions can still make their own calls about closure. Most Philly courts say they’ll stay closed until July 6, and jury duty is still canceled through Sept 8.
  • Philly police recently returned to normal procedures after halting many nonviolent arrests in March.

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Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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