May 12th Questions
- To be considered for a partial reopening under the state guidelines, counties must have fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days. Lancaster County’s score under that metric dropped to 114 by Monday — still more than twice the level that the Wolf administration says is safe for reopening. You have questioned the state’s metrics. What specific metrics are you using and how are they better than those used by the state?
We believe the state’s metric is flawed. It is a simplistic, arbitrary goal based on incomplete data collected at the state level. This static metric fails to account for the amount of testing being performed. For instance, if a county would increase its testing capacity dramatically and include testing of asymptomatic citizens, its numbers would undoubtedly rise. But, if fewer tests were performed, positive cases would drop. As such, this metric does not encourage increased and expanded testing. Instead, it encourages less testing so that its arbitrary threshold can be met. To date, Lancaster has tested over 12,500 individuals, more than 61 (or 90% of) other counties in Pennsylvania, and we believe that this is a key factor that should be considered when examining our county’s preparedness to advance to the yellow phase.
Further, this metric is unreliable, because the state continually adjusts it to include a “data dump” to account for lags in reporting and the reconciliation of local and private data. Finally, Secretary Levine confirmed that the state includes positive antibody tests, which represents an individual who was sick weeks or months ago and recovered, in the daily positive cases reported for counties. This is illogical, unfair, and inaccurate. As such, this metric is simply inadequate in determining whether our health care system is overwhelmed or has the capacity to meet the needs of our constituents, which we must not forget was the original purpose of the shutdown.
The Lancaster County Working Group that we’ve established to oversee the county reopening will use data reported from the County Coroner and medical experts from county hospital systems so that we can have a comprehensive, accurate understanding of tests performed, positive cases, deaths, available ventilators and ICU beds, and overall health system capacity as we collaboratively make decisions on behalf of our citizens.
- We understand from LNP | LancasterOnline’s reporting that you didn’t consult local hospital officials — or even the county commissioners’ own public health emergency adviser— before sending your letter to the governor. What medical experts and epidemiologists advised you that Lancaster County could safely move into the next phase of the state’s reopening plan? Please name them.
As we said in our letter to the Governor, we are in constant contact with representatives of all hospital systems in Lancaster County, the Hospital Association of PA, the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency, County Commissioners, state legislative delegation, Congressman Smucker, the PA Department of Health, and others. The group convenes a weekly conference call to review data, discuss issues, and find ways to work together to solve concerns.
Additionally, the county has hired a highly-qualified Public Health Emergency Advisor (PHEA) to provide dedicated technical, administrative, and logistical advice and assistance during the current COVID-I9 public health emergency, including advice regarding reopening.
The issue of reopening – the conceptual goal of the letter – was discussed with the group, although the medical experts and business leaders in the work group were not asked to sign it. The reason is simple: This letter was one level of government communicating with another. Implying that our medical professionals and private business representatives were not consulted on this issue could not be further from the truth.
- Didn’t you just render the state plan — and its phases — meaningless by declaring that you’ll act without the governor’s approval?
We believe that following the state’s “aggressive mitigation” guidelines and rules contained in the yellow phase is a step in the right direction. However, we obviously disagree with the Governor’s position that Lancaster is not ready for this phase because of the state’s flawed metric.
We believe that local leaders and citizens deserve the opportunity to be on a level playing field with the big box stores and lucky waiver recipients that have been operating throughout the pandemic. Pennsylvania has one of the strictest shutdown orders in the country. Certain industries like construction sat idle in Pennsylvania while other states continued their operations. Additionally, the Commonwealth remains the only state to prohibit real estate related activities to meet the housing needs of its citizens.
Our constituents have been patient. They have complied with the shutdown orders, but that patience is waning. State legislators have tried to negotiate with Governor Wolf and passed legislation to offer some relief. However, Governor Wolf has repeatedly demonstrated an unwillingness to work together with local officials to help them achieve the twin goals of public safety and revived economy. We still want to work with the Governor. But if his administration is unwilling to work with us, we feel it is necessary to act on the will of the people.
- Can’t businesses now declare that they’ll reopen without taking any social distancing measures, given that Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams, also a Republican, announced Sunday that her office won’t prosecute stay-at-home order violations?
As Governor Wolf has stated, the shutdown order relies on voluntary compliance. That hasn’t changed. We stated clearly in our letter, businesses must follow the CDC and DOH guidelines to safely operate and we have confidence that businesses in Lancaster will follow those guidelines to keep their employees, patrons, and communities safe.
- The governor’s executive order on businesses during the COVID-19 emergency has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declinedto lift it. Does the Republican Party remain, in your view, the party of law and order?
Yes. We certainly respect the Governor’s authority, which is why we have encouraged businesses and residents to follow his administration’s guidelines for reopening. But we also respect the will of the people. As such, we believe that Lancaster County is prepared to allow businesses to reopen safely.
- How do you define the rule of law now?
The rule of law is underpinned by the fair and equal treatment as afforded by our Constitution and pointed out by several District Attorneys. The fact of the matter is that the Red designation is not sustainable or defensible due to the arbitrary, inconsistent, and conflicting nature of the orders. The only sensible and defensible path forward is the Yellow designation, in which everyone must follow DOH and CDC guidance to be safe and slow the spread of the virus.
Further, the rule of law is intended to restrain the arbitrary exercise of power by government. There is nothing more arbitrary than the selective way the Wolf administration has implemented its lockdown.
The Governor has opted to handpick winners and losers in our economy through his non-transparent and arbitrary application of the business waiver program. Big box stores like Walmart and Home Depot were deemed essential, despite overcrowded parking lots, long lines, and higher-than-normal customer traffic. Meanwhile, the backbone of our community – small businesses – are forced to sit on the sidelines, because evidently Governor Wolf believes they can’t be trusted to follow same guidelines from the CDC that these big box stores apparently can. Local garden centers remained closed while Lowes continued to sell perennials and garden supplies. Real estate firms remained closed in Pennsylvania while every other state in America allowed real estate to continue operating throughout the pandemic.
Make no mistake, we intend to rectify many of these disparities while simultaneously protecting public health. This is possible due to the collaborative nature of the plan, which has the same goal as the Governor but with a different, fairer approach.
- The Republican Party prides itself on being pro-life. What level of loss of life are you willing to tolerate if your plan to move quickly to reopen Lancaster County sparks a wider COVID-19 outbreak?
This is a false equivalency and we’re disappointed that your editorial process allowed it, as it is based on the false premise that opening our economy and protecting lives are mutually exclusive goals. The fact is, 90% of COVID-19 deaths in Lancaster County originated in nursing homes, and those facilities are under the direct oversight of Governor Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of the Department of Health. Because of their lack of focus on the most vulnerable members of our community, the reality has been a tragic amount of death in our nursing and personal care homes.
The plan laid out Wednesday by the Lancaster County Commissioners to directly supply nursing homes with the appropriate testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as infection control guidance and training from Cocciardi and Associates, Inc. on policies and procedures at nursing homes, is far more detailed and comprehensive than what the state has provided in the past nine weeks.
Through this plan, we seek to reduce the excessive loss of life that the administration has imposed on Lancaster County through its failure to direct resources to the epicenter of the virus – the nursing homes and personal care homes of this county. These facilities will continue to be isolated and closed to the general public. As such, there is an opportunity to mitigate these outbreaks with the proper aid and guidance that is included in the Lancaster County plan.
But we must not forget that fully eradicating this disease was never the goal of the shutdown from the outset. To that end, we cannot – and should not – promise that positive cases of COVID-19 won’t increase as we reopen; however, we can promise that we are prepared to protect Lancaster countians, especially those in our most vulnerable populations, by appropriately mitigating a spike in cases.
Finally, we would argue that the Governor’s plan is certainly not putting the lives of all Pennsylvania residents first, as there are many Pennsylvanians across the state and in Lancaster County who are struggling to make ends meet and feed their families right now through no fault of their own.
The Wolf Administration has forced businesses to shut down their operations and layoff their employees indefinitely. In many cases, it has failed to deliver the promised financial aid from the state. Due to its gross mismanagement, many Pennsylvanians are still waiting for their first unemployment compensation check. So while our opponents claim that reopening now is putting ‘profits over people’ or ‘livelihoods over lives,’ we would argue that the livelihoods of Lancaster countians are their lives. And as such, the Governor has put their lives in jeopardy by forcing them to go weeks without a paycheck to use for food, shelter, medical care, or household bills.
- You attached a “draft framework” of the commissioners’ plan for a Lancaster County COVID-19 Relief Fund, which would deploy funding from the federal CARES Act. Will the fund be operating by Friday, when you intend to move the county into the yellow phase? (Again, do the phases really matter now that you’re not really heeding them?)
The actions taken by the County Commissioners on Wednesday set into motion a robust response that will protect lives and reopen the local economy in a safe and prudent manner so that families and businesses can once again thrive. To our knowledge, no other county that has been moved to the Yellow phase by the Governor has had any of these plans in place prior to being permitted to move to the Governor’s next phase of reopening. While we find it hypocritical that Lancaster is being held to another standard, we are confident in this unparalleled work product.
- You say all residents and staff members of the county’s 32 nursing homes will be tested for COVID-19. Which contractor will conduct those tests? From where have you obtained enough testing kits to cover people without symptoms? How frequently will those tests be performed?
Clarity Laboratories and Eurofins Clinical Diagnostics have been awarded contracts to perform testing on all residents and staff members in nursing homes in Lancaster County. They state they will be able to perform and receive results for the estimated 8,000 tests within 2 to 3 weeks. The tests will be conducted once in this plan, which is in accordance with the state’s most recent guidance from earlier this week regarding testing of employees and residents in all nursing homes. Once this testing is completed, the county will partner with Lancaster General Hospital to implement a comprehensive testing and contact tracing plan.
- We are very pro-testing, but we must ask: What type of test will be used in nursing homes? Will it be the type that requires that a swab be inserted deep into the nasal cavity? If it is, is it fair to subject asymptomatic elderly individuals to such a painful procedure?
According to multiple medical descriptions, the test is unpleasant but not necessarily painful. The temporary discomfort of a nasal swab is a small price to pay for detecting the virus early, moving infected people to isolation, stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives. Numerous scientific studies and medical experts have concluded that bolstering testing and contact tracing efforts is the best solution to keeping citizens safe. Is LNP arguing that county officials should prioritize comfort over safety?
- Who is the health consultant who will review and train on COVID-19 mitigation procedures in the county’s nursing homes?
Cocciardi and Associates.
- In your letter to the governor, you wrote of “Lancaster County’s world-renowned collaborative spirit.” Why didn’t any Democrats sign your letter, if you are working in that “world-renowned” spirit? And why didn’t you notify the Lancaster Chamber and the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County — whose economic recovery plan you cite— before sending your letter?
County Commissioner Craig Lehman was invited to sign on but declined. It would be a more appropriate to ask him about his decision and why he does not trust our small businesses to act in the same, safe manner as our big box stores.
Further, to paint this is a strictly partisan issue is simply false. It takes only a Google search to find that there are Democrats across the Commonwealth who also oppose Governor Wolf’s non-transparent, non-collaborative approach, and who also are in favor of reopening the state in a safe, data-informed manner.
Nevertheless, we are in constant communication with our working group and while they were not notified of the letter, they have been included in conversations about the capacity and ability for the county to move to the Yellow phase.
- Relatedly, Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace asked some excellent questionsin response to your letter. She believes the answer to these questions are “no,” but we’d be grateful if you could answer them directly. First: “Does the county have a plan to increase testing countywide?”
Yes, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was approved on Wednesday with Lancaster General Hospital to perform up to 1,000 tests per day throughout Lancaster County.
- “Has the county implemented countywide contact tracing?”
Yes, the memorandum above includes contact tracing.
- “Does the county have an early warning system in place so that we can continue to ensure our health care systems do not become overwhelmed in the future?”
Yes. As previously noted, Lancaster County has a workgroup which consists of representatives from all hospital systems in Lancaster County, the Hospital Association of PA, the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency, County Commissioners, state legislative delegation, Congressman Smucker, the PA Department of Health, and others. The group convenes a weekly conference call to review data, discuss issues, and find ways to work together to solve concerns. Not long ago, the workgroup was focused on preparing for the potential of securing an alternate care site in anticipation of the ‘surge’ of COVID-19 patients. Plans were actively being pursued, but as we know, they were thankfully never needed. The point is that we have the right people at the table to handle such situations, if they arise.
- Does the county have sufficient personal protective equipment “ready for distribution to our businesses?”
The County approved an agreement with the Economic Development Company of Lancaster and the Lancaster Chamber on Wednesday to work together to implement the Economic Recovery Plan they developed. Part of the plan provides for the purchase and distribution of PPE for businesses. Supply chains are difficult to predict right now, and businesses across the nation are experiencing difficulty in acquiring PPE. Unfortunately, this will continue to be a problem over the next several months but it is better to work together to acquire such materials. However, we are not aware of any other county that has gone to the Yellow phase as having “sufficient personal protective equipment ready for distribution” to businesses. Nevertheless, we will continue work together to solve the problem in real time.
- “Does the county have a fund up and running to offset costs related to retrofitting facilities?”
Part of the Economic Recovery Plan provides for such a fund. The County will finance it through federal CARES Act dollars. Again, we are not aware of any such fund or provision of funds in counties that are currently the Yellow phase.
- Now back to our own questions. Wolf declared Monday that businesses “in counties that do not abide by the lawwill no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides.” Will the county cover the liability of businesses that lose these protections?
While there are differing opinions as to whether businesses would lose insurance coverage if they reopen prior to his approval, individual businesses should review their insurance policies in detail prior to making this decision. The decision to reopen is up to those business owners and they must weigh the pros and cons of reopening and make the decision that is best for them. But the reality is that many of our small businesses will be unable to reopen at all if they are forced to wait until June 4 or longer. Opening now may be their only option.
- Wolf also announced thatcounty residents “receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers.” How will businesses operate without enough employees?
To be clear, current law does not permit a person to continue to receive unemployment if they are offered a job. But the reality is that many of our small businesses in Lancaster, like all over the state and country, have only a handful of employees, and many of those employees are anxious to return to work. For a lot of those employees, the last time they received any money in their bank account was their last pay check nine weeks ago. But we acknowledge there may be some employees who are apprehensive and we would encourage businesses and employees to work together to ensure the proper safety precautions issued by the CDC and DOH can be taken so employees feel comfortable returning to work.
- Say your teenage kid comes home and says he wants to have a party with 40 of his friends. You say that he can’t because it’s still not safe for people to gather in groups that large. He ignores you. Will you discipline him? If you don’t respect the law, why should our children?
As you know, we have maintained that everyone should continue to abide by federal and state guidelines, which continue to call for limited gatherings. Still, the state currently relies on voluntary compliance regardless of what phase a county may designated and that will continue. Interestingly, it should be noted that the Governor provided waivers to over 6,000 companies in the state – allowing them to ignore the shutdown laws – indicating that he clearly believes that they can operate in a safe manner despite their initial designation as “non-essential.” His own waiver process created these exceptions. However, while we disagree with your comparison of hardworking adults across Lancaster County to children, we do know that for many kids, the safe reopening of their parents’ business will decide whether they lose their home to foreclosure or have enough food in the fridge.
- This is National Hospital Week. Before you sent your letter to the governor, did you consider the potential impact on hospital employees? What will you say to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, hospital cleaners and others who are risking their lives now to care for COVID-19 patients?
Thankfully, despite the dire predictions to the contrary, our hospitals have not been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. We intend to do everything we can to ensure that continues, which is why we will continue to work closely with the hospitals to keep a pulse on how many patients they are receiving and ensure that they are able to continue to meet the needs of our communities. We are incredibly grateful for the heroic work that our doctors, nurses, and hospital staff have done over the last few months, and in acknowledgement of their critical role in this crisis, we will continue to consult them and rely on their expertise as we move forward.
- Now that you’ve exercised what effectively is a nuclear option, is there any chance of future collaboration with Mayor Sorace, Gov. Wolf and others in the Wolf administration? You’ve taken Lancaster County to the edge of a cliff. Is there any way of going back to a place where cooperation and reasoned discussion are possible?
First, we reject your characterization that we were the ones who have “taken Lancaster County to the edge of a cliff.” Rather, we are at the edge of this cliff due to the unilateral decisions of Governor Wolf to continually ignore the will of the people and the public officials elected to represent them. And despite the leading question that would suggest the contrary, we do appreciate the suggestion of cooperation and reasoned discussion, which is exactly what state legislators have attempted to do for the past 8 weeks with no success.
Governor Wolf has continued to largely ignore the requests and pleas from our constituents through their elected officials or provide clear benchmarks or consistent application of his own orders. During hearings held over the past two weeks this administration has refused to provide answers to the most basic and obvious of questions like what metrics were considered when refusing to move a specific county to the yellow phase, and they have balked at including local leaders in the decisions to reopen counties within the Commonwealth.
Further, we are unsure why you’ve only mentioned Lancaster City without reference to the 60 other municipalities within the county, many of which have passed resolutions in support of reopening. The needs of all municipalities in Lancaster County were considered as we worked with local leaders from across the county to gather input to develop this plan.
To ensure cooperation in future emergencies, numerous bills have been proposed. Senator Martin has co-primed a constitutional amendment that would require the General Assembly’s approval in order to extend emergency declarations beyond thirty days. And Representative Cutler and Senator Aument have both introduced legislation that would require the Governor to work with the legislative and judicial branches of the PA government during declared emergencies through the creation of a task force. While Governor Wolf has said he would be open to such a task force, he has refused to include anyone outside his administration in his decision making to date. It should not take a veto-proof majority of legislators to force the Governor to do what every Pennsylvanian wants – collaboration.
Nevertheless, our preference to work with the Governor was clearly stated in our letter to him last week and that offer still stands.
May 13th Questions
- Dr. Anthony Fauci — the federal government’s top infectious disease expert — warned this week that there would be “needless suffering and death” if the U.S. reopens too quickly. In his testimony Tuesday before a Senate panel, Fauci noted that some COVID-19 infections were inevitable when a community reopened. But the difference between “little spikes” of infection and outright outbreaks, Fauci said, would be a community’s ability to respond with testing, contract tracing and a plan to isolate COVID-19 cases. What are your plans to implement, on a countywide basis, those three tools deemed essential by Dr. Fauci?
Already answered above. But a question for you: Since we are not aware of any mass testing and contact tracing being done on a massive scale in counties in Yellow designation, does this mean that the Governor should switch them back to the Red phase until the state is ready to implement such provisions?
- In case you want to dismiss Fauci as “not the end-all,” as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul did Tuesday, we should note that the White House reopening guidelines also state that hospitals should have robust testing programs in place for at-risk health care workers, “including emerging antibody testing.” Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, which operates this county’s largest hospital, does not yet have antibody testing (that is, tests of a person’s immune system response to COVID-19). Do you have a plan to roll out such testing countywide — and soon?
As noted earlier, there is a plan to perform testing and contact tracing county-wide. Antibody testing has only recently become effective and reliable enough to discuss incorporating such testing into plans. This will be explored as the County moves forward with other testing.
- As we noted in a previous editorial, Chester County announced in early April that it would launch COVID-19 antibody testing, becoming the first county in the commonwealth to do so. Chester County — unlike Lancaster County — has a public health department. We didn’t have space to ask this question Tuesday, so here it is (you won’t be surprised by it): Has this pandemic convinced you, as it has convinced others, that we need a county health department?
We won’t comment on the effectiveness of antibody testing in any reopening plan given that only recently has such testing become more reliable. With respect to a health department, all three Commissioners have said in one way or another that a conversation about incorporating a public health component into County government should be a topic of discussion at some point once the pandemic has subsided.
- Fauci said Tuesday that if an area opens before it’s prepared, “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control.” And this not only may cause “some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery.” Does his warning concern you?
His warning would concern us if we didn’t feel that Lancaster County is ready to reopen. As we’ve previously stated, we firmly believe that the faulty metric used by the state to determine a county’s readiness to reopen is flawed for the aforementioned reasons, and we therefore reject the premise that Lancaster County is acting prematurely. Finally, we are prepared to make difficult but necessary decisions to appropriately mitigate a spike in cases should the local data indicate the need to do so.
- Relatedly, would you feel more comfortable making decisions that could have serious consequences for public health if you had a team of public health experts to consult?
We do have a team of public health experts consulting us, which is precisely why we feel comfortable making these decisions. Further, the assumption behind your line of questioning that we did not consult public health experts before moving forward with our plan is completely false. To the contrary, we have been in constant contact with all local hospitals and health systems, the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency, and our newly-hired Public Health Emergency Advisor throughout the last few months as we were developing this plan to move Lancaster County forward in a safe, data-informed manner. In the future, we would encourage you to reach out to us and clarify before publishing questions that are predicated on false assumptions.
- Perhaps you’re not concerned about getting advice from health officials. Because, as we noted Tuesday, you didn’t consult hospital officials before sending your letter to the governor. (Or Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace. Or, until the eleventh hour, Craig Lehman, the sole Democratic county commissioner.) Of course, the commissioners did recently hire a public health emergency adviser: Edwin Hurston, who earns $1,800 weekly. Hurston told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Abigail King that the commissioners sought his counsel “on several issues.” He also said he was aware of the letter sent to the governor but did not know its full contents. Why wasn’t Hurston given the complete lowdown on your plan to reopen Lancaster County on Friday?
This question is littered with false assumptions, so we are happy to set the record straight. First, your assumption that hospital officials weren’t consulted at all wrong. As explained, these officials have been consulted in the creation of the reopening plans for our Counties and we would much rather their attention stay where it is needed and not on editing a letter that describes the exact plan we have been discussing.
Second, Commissioner Craig Lehman was consulted and declined to participate. Further, we would have delayed sending the letter to accommodate him, if necessary. Finally, Mr. Hurston’s lack of knowledge of the full contents of the letter is far different than him being unaware of the full contents of the reopening plan. To be clear, Mr. Hurston has and will continue to play an integral in the reopening plan, but do not assume that his unfamiliarity with the language in the letter to Governor Wolf is synonymous with our failure to include him and rely on his expertise in the creation of the reopening plan.
- Hurston told LNP | LancasterOnline that his “personal feelings aren’t relevant.” We think his personal feelings — which would be based on his decades of experience managing crises — might be relevant. Would you allow him to speak publicly as candidly as Fauci was permitted by the White House to speak before the Senate?
Mr. Hurston can respond to questions and answer them to the best of his ability relative to his work. He is not being kept from the public or press as he was present at the press conference on Thursday.
- Hurston said he was “given a set of tasks and is working to execute those tasks to the best of (his) ability.” Do those tasks include setting up widespread testing, providing personal protective equipment for businesses that decide to reopen, and launching a full contact tracing effort — all by Friday?
Mr. Hurston has been assigned and is working diligently on all of the tasks you mentioned. As previously noted, the plans will unfold over the next few weeks. But we must remember the most important thing people can do is to follow CDC and DOH guidance on social distancing and spread mitigation efforts. Certainly, many of our businesses are prepared and able to do that.
- PennLive reported Tuesday that some counties that were threatening to defy Gov. Wolf and move themselves into the state’s less restrictive yellow phase have stepped “back from the brink.” Others — including Lebanon County — told the Harrisburg newspaper that they are reevaluating their rebellion in light of Wolf’s threats Monday to withhold discretionary federal funding that would be available to counties with fewer than 500,000 people. Lancaster County is larger, so it already received $95 million in federal pandemic relief funding. Still, are you sure you want to proceed unilaterally, even as others rethink their approach?
Let us be clear: We are NOT proceeding unilaterally as the Governor has done repeatedly throughout this pandemic. Rather, we have assembled a collaborative group of municipal, county, state, and federal elected officials in partnership with the private sector business community and non-profits to oversee this plan that has been specifically tailored to our community.
As explained in previous answers, the Lancaster County reopening plan will be overseen by a working group consisting of representatives of all hospital systems in Lancaster County, the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania, the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency, Lancaster County Commissioners, State Legislative Delegation, Congressman Smucker, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and many others. This working group was established at the outset of this crisis and will continue to convene a weekly conference call to review data and metrics, and discuss issues and ways to work together to safely reopen the economy in a way that will not jeopardize public health. This is precisely why we are comfortable moving forward with our comprehensive plan – it has been developed by a capable team of experts from all relevant fields of expertise.
- In an op-ed published by The (Carlisle) Sentinel, Cumberland County’s commissioners explained why they aren’t reopening without state approval. “This move, we are advised, has no legal basis and would not stand up and could actually endanger the business licenses of those who defy the state of emergency declaration,” Republicans Gary Eichelberger and Vince DiFilippo and Democrat Jean Foschi wrote. Are you concerned that, in their view, defying the governor’s emergency orders has “no legal basis”? What is Lancaster County solicitor Chris Hausner’s view of the legality of your action?
Again, individual businesses must weigh the pros and cons of reopening and make the decision that is best for them. This is especially true of businesses who are regulated by the state as the Governor and his administration have the authority to either grant or revoke state licensure status. However, if Governor Wolf wants to wage war on his own citizens by penalizing hardworking Pennsylvanians who are appropriately following his own health & safety guidelines, then we believe that that will send a very clear message to the citizens of Pennsylvania that he is not on their side and that we are not all in this together.
Nevertheless, we will reiterate that we have developed a clear, detailed, and collaborative plan that addresses many of the issues he raises as reasons for revoking the licenses, and as such, we would encourage him to review our plan and work with us to deploy it in a collaborative manner.
Finally, we want to be clear that the reality for many of our small businesses is that they will be unable to reopen if they are forced to wait until June 4 or longer. Opening now may be their only option.
As for the County solicitor’s opinion, we do not comment on any legal advice sought.
- The Cumberland County commissioners further wrote that they are not “advocating any actions that are openly defiant of the state of emergency,” as such actions “will likely prove detrimental in reaching the safe solution that is needed as soon as it’s feasible. There is a huge difference between ‘taking action,’ and taking effective action.” Are they wrong?
As you’ve pointed out, Cumberland County is operating under different financial circumstances than Lancaster County. Additionally, each Pennsylvania county has its own set of unique circumstances and needs that inherently require a different, individualized approach. We believe that the Cumberland County commissioners are doing what they believe is best for their county, just as we are doing what is best for ours.
- And finally, we agree that Wolf went too far in characterizing you as “cowardly” deserters from the fight against COVID-19. Insulting political opponents is counterproductive, so we understand why you’d be dismayed. But is your decision to defy the governor a political one? Are you making the smart, medically informed choice that will ensure the well-being of all Lancaster County residents, not just the ones who voted for you?
We swore an oath to represent ALL of our constituents, not just those who voted for us. To that end, the safety of ALL Lancaster Countians is central to our reopening plan. Our decision is not political, but rather it is based on the advice of experts in our collaborative working group and developed with the needs, desires, and well-being of all Lancaster County residents in mind.
A Note to the LNP Editors:
We appreciate your detailed questions about our intent to safely reopen businesses in Lancaster. But we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the irony that this type of inquiry has not been presented to Governor Wolf in the nearly 9 weeks since he ordered the shutdown. And it should not be lost that we, in answering these questions, have been far more transparent in our plan than Governor Wolf, who only accepts pre-approved questions in a press conference.
Further, it is obvious by the passive aggressive tone of your questions that the editors of LNP disagree with our efforts to safely reopen businesses in Lancaster County. We understand not everyone will agree on this issue, and there are likely many citizens in Lancaster that find themselves somewhere in between. For a newspaper which ostensibly prides itself as being unbiased on the issues, we are disappointed in the clearly partisan manner in which you have approached these questions, particularly by basing those questions on a series of false assumptions for which no attempt was made to discover the truth prior to publication. Be that as it may, we have not shied away from answering these questions, and it is our hope that the editors of the newspaper would cease taking steps that further alienate the many citizens that do agree with the effort to reopen. Now, more than ever, we need to work together. We don’t have to agree, but we should all be able to treat each other with respect.