December 3, 2021

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Gov. Wolf, Counties Spar Over Coronavirus Mitigation Measures

HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing back against county leaders who are planning to reopen their local economies in defiance of the coronavirus mitigation measures the state put in place in mid-March to slow the spread of the disease.

At least seven Pennsylvania counties, growing impatient with the governor’s coronavirus mitigation strategy, have said publicly they’re moving independently to lift the restrictions in an effort to get residents back to work.

But Wolf, during a mid-morning press conference, had stern words for the local politicians seeking to buck his reopening strategy. He said the counties that do so will face consequences.

“To those politicians who decide to cave into this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of this cowardly act,” Wolf said. He said counties encouraging businesses to open despite state orders “are engaging in behavior that is both selfish and unsafe.”

Officials in Lebanon, Dauphin, and Beaver counties announced over the past few days they are planning to open back up whether Harrisburg says it’s OK to do so or not. And leaders in Berks, Cumberland, Franklin, and Schuylkill counties are also contemplating reopening without the permission of the state, PennLive.com reported.

Wolf warned counties that reopen in defiance of the state’s phased, color-coded plan will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds. Businesses that reopen before being permitted by the commonwealth will lose their business liability insurance.

And, he said, restaurants that reopen prematurely for dine-in service will be at risk of losing their liquor license.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump weighed in on the situation in Pennsylvania, accusing Democrats of playing politics.

“The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!” the president tweeted Monday.

Wolf, when asked about his response to the tweet, said “I don’t know how you stay safe and move quickly. We’re trying to move deliberately. We closed down the state in a measured, staged manner, and we’re reopening in the same measured, staged manner. The irresponsible thing to do is willy nilly pretend we can wave a magic wand and go back to business.”

As of this Friday, 37 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties will be in the “yellow” phase of coronavirus mitigation measures.

On Friday, Wolf announced 13 counties will shift from “red” to “yellow” on May 15. They are Allegheny; Armstrong; Bedford; Blair; Butler; Cambria; Fayette; Fulton; Greene; Indiana; Somerset; Washington; and Westmoreland. Twenty-four counties are already designated as “yellow.”

A “yellow” designation means most businesses and day cares can open, but must follow strict safety and social distancing precautions.

Beaver County is the only western Pennsylvania county not included in next week’s phase of reopenings. Beaver County officials said in a news conference Friday that their residents were “prisoners” in their own county and accused Wolf of saying one thing while doing another regarding counties reopening.

They said Wolf’s decision to keep Beaver County “red” was based on one outbreak in one county nursing home.

At least 60 people there have succumbed to COVID-19 at Beaver County’s Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb has called for a federal investigation of the facility.

In Central Pennsylvania, Dauphin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Haste said in a letter published Friday that “enough is enough,” and that he has “no faith in Gov. Wolf and [Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel] Levine’s ability to do the right thing.”

“It is time to reopen the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and return our state to the people (as prescribed by our Constitution) and not run it as a dictatorship,” he said. “This decision has ruined the livelihood of millions of hard-working Pennsylvanians in exchange for 0.4 percent of our population. I have great sympathy for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I also have great concern for the families that now have to struggle with financial concerns, mental health stress, addiction and more because of the shutdown. Again, our governor has pitted groups of Pennsylvanians against one another.”

Lebanon County officials said the county would move from “red” to “yellow” without the state’s approval. In a letter to the governor, officials said Lebanon County “has met the requirement of your original Stay-at-Home order, which was to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 outbreak and allow hospitals the time to gear up for COVID-19 patients.”

“We have heard the pleas of our residents who desire the ability to safely reopen their businesses and safely return to work,” the letter reads. “Lebanon County plans to move forward and will require businesses who are ready to reopen to follow CDC guidelines including requirements such as hand washing social distancing and masks until further guidance is received for the county to move to the Green Phase”

In Bucks County, local leaders met virtually with state Health Secretary Rachel Levine and staff from the governor’s office over the weekend in a push to have coronavirus-related distancing measured relaxed soon.

During the meeting, the commissioners and county health and safety officials argued that Bucks County should be moved into the yellow reopening phase of Wolf’s statewide plan before his most recent stay-at-home order expires on June 4.

The developments come as 543 additional positive cases of coronavirus were confirmed Monday, bringing the statewide total to 57,154. The state reported 24 new deaths Monday, bringing the statewide death toll to 3,731

With reporting by Patch correspondent Max Bennett

>>>Full coverage of coronavirus in Pennsylvania

This article originally appeared on the Across Pennsylvania Patch

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