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All of state poised for at least a partial reopening

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf said Friday he is easing some pandemic restrictions in Philadelphia and the heavily populated suburbs on June 5, while lifting them almost entirely in 17 rural counties next week as Pennsylvania continues to emerge from a shutdown imposed nearly two months ago to help slow the spread of the new virus.

Wolf is accelerating his reopening plan even though more than 20 Pennsylvania counties remain above the state’s target for new infections that were supposed to qualify them for an easing of pandemic restrictions — and eight counties are more than three times over.

Local elected officials, Republican and Democrats alike, have been pressing for shutdown relief amid skyrocketing unemployment, as have small business owners who are struggling to keep afloat.

Wolf is taking action amid a partisan blame game over whether governors or the president is responsible for the economic wreckage. That fight could have enormous implications in the November election in this presidential battleground state.

The Democratic governor is moving Philadelphia, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton and Montgomery to “yellow” on June 5, meaning that people will be able to freely leave their homes and retailers and other kinds of businesses will be allowed to reopen, though other restrictions remain.

Eight counties are moving to yellow a week earlier, on May 29: Dauphin, Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

Wolf also announced the first batch of counties moving to “green,” the least restrictive phase of his reopening plan: Bradford, Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren. All of them are lightly populated counties across a northern swath of the state.

Health officials have said they were working on specific guidelines for counties in the green phase.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Friday:

Some evictions allowed

The Wolf administration is loosening its ban on foreclosures and evictions.

A tenant who damages property, breaks the law or breaches the lease in some other way can now be evicted under a modified executive order issued by Wolf on Friday.

The temporary ban still applies to evictions and foreclosures for nonpayment or because a tenant has overstayed a lease. The moratorium is scheduled to last until July 10.

Nursing home funding

The federal government on Friday began distributing $238 million in emergency aid to Pennsylvania nursing homes that have been hit especially hard by the virus.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it is making payments to 587 nursing homes. Each nursing home will get a fixed payment of $50,000, plus $2,500 per bed. The money can be used to pay staff, boost testing capacity, acquire protective equipment and for other expenses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nursing homes have seen declining patient populations and increased costs as they struggle to contain the virus. Long-term care residents account for about two-thirds of the statewide death toll of more than 4,800, a higher proportion than in most other states.

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