Stephanie Stahl reports.
UKEE WASHINGTON: A big acceleration on the road to recovery in Pennsylvania to tell you about tonight. Today, state health officials announced a dramatic expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations. Appointments will be available to everyone who's eligible by the middle of April. And the state will move into the next phases of distribution next week. Health reporter Stephanie Stahl is here with details on the major announcement. Stephanie.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Well, Ukee, state health officials say the vaccine expansion is happening because supplies have increased from the federal government. That also has the states switching its plans. Instead of opening regional clinics, the extra doses will go to the counties.
ALISON BEAM: Two weeks ahead of the president's directive.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Pennsylvania's acting health secretary announced that on April 19, vaccination appointments will be open to everyone over the age of 16. And starting today, a special exception is being made to allow appointments for law enforcement, firefighters, grocery store workers, plus food and agricultural workers.
ALISON BEAM: We are on a different playing field than we were previously in the amounts of supply that will be coming to us, not just this week, but through the month of April. And so that is going to be truly game changing.
STEPHANIE STAHL: On April 5, Pennsylvania will move into phase 1B. That includes people who live and work in congregate facilities. Also postal and transit workers. And April 12, phase 1C opens to people who work in food services, communications, and public safety. And even though COVID-19 cases have increased 57% over the past two weeks, Pennsylvania will proceed with lifting the next round of restrictions Easter Sunday.
ALISON BEAM: And so, all of this is under evaluation constantly.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Also, crediting increased federal supplies, Beam announced a reversal in the state's controversial plan to open mass regional sites.
ALISON BEAM: Instead we're taking the vaccine and we're investing it directly into the counties how their local leadership has requested.
VALERIE ARKOOSH: And I just couldn't be happier
STEPHANIE STAHL: Dr. Arkoosh with the Montgomery County commission who pushed for the redirection of vaccine says access will get much easier. But there is a renewed warning about new COVID cases.
VALERIE ARKOOSH: Our numbers are really, really rising very quickly. I'm very concerned. It is critically important that every one of us, vaccinated or not, continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Now, Philadelphia officials said they are not changing their plans. Vaccine will be more broadly available in the city still on May 1. So this announcement today from the state only applies to people living in the suburban counties. Ukee.
UKEE WASHINGTON: Thank you for that.