What does the 'yellow phase' of Pennsylvania’s reopen plan actually mean? | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

What does the 'yellow phase' of Pennsylvania’s reopen plan actually mean?

On May 15, Allegheny County and 12 other counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania will move to the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopen plan during the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, all of Southwestern Pennsylvania is under the red phase, which includes a stay-at-home order and scores of strict business closures. Most retail is closed, non-essential businesses and organizations have been ordered to close offices, and gathering in groups has been prohibited.

But moving out of the red phase into yellow isn’t a full reopen. It is not “back to normal,” so to speak. In fact, Wolf urged caution when the counties do move from red phase to yellow phase.


As of today, only 20,241 coronavirus tests have been administered, which is less than 2% of the county’s 1.2 million residents.

“More businesses can reopen, but proper safety measures must be in place,” tweeted Wolf today. “There are fewer social restrictions, but residents should continue social distancing, wearing masks in public, and doing everything they can to prevent the spread of #COVID19.”

But confusion abounds on exactly what yellow phase means, since it is somewhere in between full lockdown and fully reopen. Here is Pittsburgh City Paper’s best explanation of what the yellow phase means for Pittsburghers and what changes on May 15.

What is open?

Yellow phase means that all in-person retailers, like appliance stores, clothing stores, and sporting goods stores, are allowed to operate, but curbside pick-up and delivery are still encouraged. Pet stores are also open to all customers under yellow phase, not just people purchasing pet supplies and those seeking veterinary treatment for pets.

When visiting businesses, offices, and other in-person retailers, people should always be wearing face masks.


Golf courses, marinas, and gun stores were opened under red, but under yellow, they have less strict rules. Bike shops and cell-phone providers under red were only allowed to perform repairs, but under yellow, they can make in-person sales.

Bail bondsmen, law offices, notary and title services, car dealerships, garden centers, and apartment leasing offices are open for in-person sales under yellow phase. There may be something CP missed; for the full list, please check the governor’s website.

It also means that child-care providers are allowed to operate, but must comply with state guidelines. However, it’s a bit unclear what those guidelines are. The 16-page FAQ that the Pennsylvania officials provide merely says “childcare programs may conduct in-person operations as long as they strictly adhere to guidelines” during the yellow phase.  But, the governor did provide a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for child-care centers in a press release. They detail rules such as sick children and staff must stay home, screening for children like temperature checks, and strict disinfecting guidelines. Full list of guidelines can be read here

The state explanation does link to another long form. That form states dozens of rules that all businesses and operations conducting in-person operations, including those that are open to the public, must follow. Some of those that visitors, shoppers, and patrons should now follow include:

  • Businesses should conduct business with the public by appointment only, whenever possible.
  • If appointment-only service is not feasible, retailers should limit the number of people inside the building to no more than 50% of the total maximum occupancy.
  • Customers must wear masks at all times, with some exceptions for infants and those with medical conditions.
  • Hours will likely be modified so that there is enough time to clean and restock, including designated times for people at high risk to shop.
  • Customers are encouraged to use online ordering by providing delivery or pick-up option.

Locations providing in-person business services should be wiping down and disinfecting surfaces as often as possible. They should also have detailed plans about what to do in case they discover that an employee or customer has become infected with coronavirus. (Details on page 2 of this document.)


On May 8, in counties that moved into yellow phase today in the Northeast and Northcentral part of the state, some Department of Motor Vehicle offices in those counties reopened and are offering limited in-person services like commercial licensing and photo identification services. It's currently unclear which DMV locations will reopen in Southwestern Pennsylvania on May 15. Please check the DMV website.

What about gatherings?

In yellow phase counties, the stay-at-home order is lifted, but gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited. People who can work from home must continue where feasible.

Hotels, motels, and hostels were allowed under red phase, but short-term rentals, through sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, were not. But in the yellow phase, short-term rentals are allowed, as long as they adhere to social distancing, cleaning, and gathering-limit guidelines. (But folks, please don’t party at short-term rentals.)

Residential real estate showings may continue, but must follow social distancing guidelines of wearing masks, standing at least six-feet apart, and disinfecting surfaces.

What is still closed?

Restaurants and bars can still only operate as takeout and delivery. But beginning June 5, restaurants in yellow phase counties can begin serving customers for outdoor dining, provided they "strictly adhere to the requirements of the guidance, including maximum occupancy limits."

Visits to nursing homes, congregate-care facilities, prisons, and jails are still prohibited.

Gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons, and other entities that provide massage therapy must remain closed because they cannot perform services without maintaining intimate contact.

Entertainment venues like casinos and theaters also must remain closed. No sporting events!

Some PLCB liquor stores, aka Fine Wine and Good Spirits, in other yellow counties opened today to limited in-person retail, but it's unclear which state-run liquor stores in Allegheny County and the surrounding region will do the same. Stay tuned, CP will update this story as more information becomes available.

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