In late April, small protests occurred in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as people were becoming restless in the face of the Covid-19 lockdown of the state by governor Tom Wolfe, (surprise!) a Democrat. Within two weeks, the number of protesters grew as commissioners in six counties announced plans to reopen despite what Wolfe said. This prompted the expected response from Wolfe: they were irresponsible, they were risking lives and, by golly, he’ll cut off discretionary funding to the renegade counties and revoke business licenses. Some of the counties backed down, but it forced Wolfe to confront the growing frustration of the people of Pennsylvania.
The new plan instituted by Wolfe involves a color-coded, region-based, three-step program to reopen. To date, some 24 counties along the northern border with New York and in the northwestern corner were moved from red to yellow status. To get from red to yellow, there must be less than 50 new cases per 100,000 population over a 2-week period. In yellow status, stay-at-home orders are lifted, businesses can reopen with restrictions and restaurants can still only do take-out orders. Gyms and movie theaters- sorry… gotta wait!
Then later in the week, another 13 counties in the southwestern corner of the state, including Pittsburgh, entered yellow status. This brought forth some interesting observations like why is Pittsburgh yellow but Perry County with its 46,000 population still red? Meanwhile other counties are criticizing Wolfe for what they view as insensitivity to their plight. Hazleton in Luzerne County became a national hot spot as vans transporting people from New York City made their way into town. Where was Wolfe then?
His initial order closed all “non-life sustaining businesses” which shut down even construction sites. Today, Pennsylvania is the only state that prohibits most in-person real estate activities. Yet, Wolfe persists in his dictatorial mandates and scare-mongering even when Donald Yealy, the chair of emergency medicine at UPMC, the state’s largest health system stated in APRIL: “The very high surge we prepared for simply hasn’t happened.”
Most egregious has been Wolfe’s response to the situation in nursing homes where he apparently stole a page from the Andrew Cuomo playbook. In the first week of May, 80% of reported deaths from the virus occurred in nursing homes. In mid-March, emergency response officials formulated an aggressive plan to deal with the situation in nursing homes that was never fully implemented by Wolfe. As a result, the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect nursing homes which, in turn, no doubt affects the statistics used to move through one’s color-coded status. For example, Beaver County in the western part of the state is the only one still in red status even though the majority of its reported 479 cases are confined to a single nursing home. But, according to Wolfe, Beaver County violates those statistics, so they stayed red.
What is Wolfe’s response to Pennsylvania’s 30% unemployment rate? He hopes to train some of the unemployed to go out and test people for the virus, and do contact tracing. And how will Wolfe pay for this program? He hopes the federal government will provide special funding. Republicans in the legislature were quick to point out that the majority of Pennsylvania’s unemployed want to go back to their old job, not become a collector of blood, spit, or snot. After all, wasn’t that the purpose of the PPP?
Speaking of Hazleton, which was not exactly the picture of a vibrant economic mecca to begin with, officials there said that 70% of small business owners are pessimistic about reopening and surviving. In those designated “red” counties, unemployment continues to rise and businesses remain shuttered. Instead, they get bizarre policies from governor Wolfe.
Forget about consistency! What the people of Pennsylvania deserve is competency in their governor and Wolfe has failed them miserably.