HARRISBURG – A day after the Lancaster County Commissioners formalized agreements with Lancaster General Hospital and the Lancaster Economic Development Corporation and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, local lawmakers in the General Assembly supported final passage of a bill to allow counties to develop and implement their own COVID-19 mitigation plans for businesses.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 327, which is a comprehensive response to the pandemic. The bill allows a county’s governing body to develop its own COVID-19 mitigation plan to fit the unique circumstances and needs of their own communities. The plan must be created in consultation with county health and emergency management officials.
The bill would also allow businesses to open only if they can comply with the mitigation measures outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH).
If signed into law, the bill would offer relief to many Lancaster County employers who were forced to close by Governor Wolf and were subsequently denied a waiver from the Department of Community and Economic Development to continue operating.
“It is clear from the Governor’s own reopening plan that each region of Pennsylvania is unique, and therefore requires individualized plans to mitigate the impact of this virus on both public health and the economy,” said Senator Ryan P. Aument (R-36). “Lancaster County has demonstrated time and time again that our leaders are able to find local solutions to local problems through collaboration. As such, we have developed a reopening plan together with municipal, county, state, and federal elected officials in partnership with the private sector business community and non-profits that is specifically tailored to Lancaster County.”
The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday following a hearing co-chaired by Senator Scott Martin (R-13) that included testimony from some of the state’ leading medical experts. Representatives from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center testified that counties can safely open a broader number of industries if they are able to adhere to social distancing and other mitigation measures from the CDC and DOH. Further, special steps must be taken to protect the most medically vulnerable state residents, including nursing home residents who make up more than two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths statewide.
“Counties have an essential role in protecting our most vulnerable citizens, and during an emergency they should have the authority to make critical decisions that affect the lives of their citizens,” Martin said. “As we look to the future, we must all work together and share best practices to ensure a safe opening for all Pennsylvanians. Lancaster County’s approach to this crisis is extremely comprehensive and could serve for a model for other counties to protect their communities.”
State lawmakers and county officials have worked together with local medical experts, hospital systems, emergency management personnel, and other important local stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to allow businesses to reopen on a limited basis in accordance with the guidance developed by the Wolf Administration for counties moving to the “yellow” phase of reopening.
The plan created by the commissioners is more individualized and tailored to the needs of Lancaster County than the one created by the state. It includes considerable steps to protect the health, welfare, and safety of their constituents, including efforts to deploy critical Personal Protective Equipment to healthcare providers, track and monitor COVID-19 cases, support first responders, provide for testing and contact tracing, bolster community services for families who have been affected by the pandemic, offer guidance to local businesses, and many more initiatives in the interest of public safety.
The plan also includes a comprehensive strategy to protect the county’s most vulnerable residents in nursing homes and long-term living facilities, where approximately 90 percent of the county’s COVID-19 deaths have originated.
Any questions regarding the specifics of the Lancaster County plan or legal enforcement of the Governor’s orders should be directed to the Lancaster County Commissioners office or the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office.