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Local officials, health experts react to Lancaster County moving to yellow phase

Tom Wolf

In March, Gov. Tom Wolf implemented broad stay-at-home and business closure orders to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by coronavirus patients.

Gov. Tom Wolf is set to move Lancaster County into the yellow phase of his reopening plan, along with all other counties.

The move will happen June 5. Local elected officials, business representatives and health experts reacted to the news.

Here's what they have to say.

                      Congressman Lloyd Smucker

“I appreciate the leadership of our Lancaster County Commissioners for responding to the threat of COVID-19 in a holistic manner and utilizing federal CARES Act funding to build a strong public-private partnership which will allow our economy to begin to recover. Additionally, I am thankful for the leadership of the York County Commissioners for their exceptional response to this disease, which allowed them to move to Governor Wolf’s 'yellow designation' prior to Lancaster County," Smucker said. 

"Gov. Wolf continues to fail the residents of Lancaster County. By forcing small businesses to wait two more weeks to begin to reopen, we will see more business closures and more jobs permanently eliminated. The governor does not appear to be in touch with reality. This further delay will continue to put incredible financial strain on hardworking families across our district," Smucker said. 

"The facts on the ground are simply different in Lancaster County than they are in other counties in southeast Pennsylvania. Gov. Wolf should allow Lancaster County to begin reopening today, by recognizing the county is putting into place a robust response to COVID-19. This failure is just further evidence of his arbitrary decision-making and refusal to be collaborative with local elected officials. Gov. Wolf simply just does not get it," Smucker said.

"Moving forward, will require all of us to continue to stay safe recognizing our individual health circumstances. Advancing to the next phase of reopening does not mean things are returning to normal, but it moves us one step further in allowing our economy to recover. It remains critical for us to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Smucker said.

Commissioner Josh Parsons

“Obviously I think that we should be in yellow right now. Two more weeks is going to mean more businesses close and more jobs lost. Everyone recognizes right now that there are jobs that could return safely now. In my view we are moving toward a new great depression. … To me it’s frustrating.”

Commissioner Ray D'Agostino

"(The June 5 date) is extremely disappointing. There are three things I would say. First, this isn't about metrics anymore, it's predetermined that were going to open at a certain date and time. And some counties are moving to green, there's no metrics or data behind that that we know of. So frankly, it's disheartening when you look at it that way."

"The governor has pronounced a death sentence on business who can open and follow CDC guidelines for fear of their government. Third is, people in Lancaster know this, the virus is still here and they need to follow CDC and Department of Health guidelines, and they've been doing that … We certainly want them to continue that. This is an unfortunate situation that the Governor hasn't recognized the hard work and sacrifices of people in Lancaster County. But we're still moving forward with our recovery plan and helping business protect lives and livelihoods."

Commissioner Craig Lehman 

“Obviously I am pleased the Governor has heard the plan that Lancaster is ready to reopen. I was hoping that Lancaster would be on the list to reopen by May 29. I am (disappointed with June 5). I firmly believe Lancaster County is ready to legally open by May 22, and I was hoping that today the Governor would have Lancaster County on the list to reopen by May 29."

Lancaster County Coroner Stephen Diamantoni

“I think (moving to yellow) make sense. I think the number of cases is begin to decline. The risk to the average Lancastrians has substantially declined and the benefit of opening business on June 5 I think is important for the economic well being of Lancastrians.”

Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace

Statement sent via Chief of Staff Jess King.

"I am grateful that our community, especially our business community, has the certainty of a date to plan for.  We’ve had contact tracing in place in the city since the first weekend in May and a recovery fund established and distributing grants this week.  We’re glad to have played a role in pushing contact tracing county-wide and are grateful for a wide range of partners who are ensuring increased testing, PPE distribution to businesses, and economic recovery planning countywide. In the next two weeks we still have a lot of ground to cover to ensure childcare and youth services are gearing up to support working families. Let’s also use this time to plan and advocate for new ideas with our hospitality and personal services businesses that won’t fully reopen on June 5."

WellSpan Health Dr. David Gasperack

Speaking for WellSpan Health via email Dr. David Gasperack said:

"(Everyone) has done a great job in coming together to help slow the spread of this disease. At whatever point in time our communities begin resuming new day-to-day routines, we will urge vigilance in protecting one another. It’s important we all continue to practice social distancing, wear a mask or cloth face covering when out in public, wash our hands thoroughly and routinely clean and disinfect surfaces.”

He also encouraged people to take care of themselves – including mental and emotional as well as physical health -- and said it’s normal to feel anxious during stressful times. The system has COVID-19 information and mental health tips at, he said.

Lancaster Chamber president and CEO Tom Baldrige

 “This is tremendous news. Not only does it provide some hope and progress in our ability to deal with this virus, but as importantly it demonstrates that this county is ready for it, and equipped to handle the future management and direction of the virus in Lancaster County,” Baldrige said. 

Baldrige said that while he thinks some Lancaster County businesses would be ready to open sooner than June 5, it is moving in the right direction to have an ending date for some of the mandated business closures.

“Yellow is what it is. It still has a fair amount of restrictions but at least it’s a step forward to green,” he said. “Psychologically it’s a huge lift, there’s absolutely no doubt about it.”

Economic Development Company of Lancaster County president Lisa Riggs

“People can now make some plans, recognizing there are still a lot of restrictions in yellow but recognizing that without that date certain, people didn’t know if they should be thinking about two weeks or two months, and that’s a big difference for a lot of business,” Riggs said.

Riggs said she is also heartened that Wolf is moving 17 counties to the green phase May 29.

“Knowing there is a path and knowing parts of the state are already going to be moving to green, all of those are hopeful signs,” she said. “This really suggests there’s a momentum and we’re moving in the right direction.”

Northern Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce executive director Liz Ackerman

“I am so happy to see Lancaster County moving to the Yellow Phase of recovery on June 5th.  Our businesses and communities have done an exemplary job working to keep everyone safe to mitigate the spread of the corona virus.  In particular our health systems: WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, UPMC Lititz and LGH Penn Medicine are to be commended for their ability to serve the Lancaster community during this challenging time and also pivot quickly to provide the contact tracing and testing needed for us to enter into the yellow phase.  I believe our businesses are ready to open under the new guidelines and continue their work of providing goods and services to customers in a safe and secure manner.”

Jesse Rothacker, member of Reopen PA

Jesse Rothacker, 38, of Rapho Township, is part of the ReOpen PA grassroots movement and developed a website so people can order signs. He called Wolf’s intention to move Lancaster to yellow a step in the right direction.

“These are kind of ridiculous baby steps. We’ve got to be able to do more,” said Rothacker, who is president of Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary in Elm. “I would ask the governor to listen to the will of the elected legislature - who are up for reelection - and are trying to reopen the state and stop vetoing just about every bill that comes across his desk.”

Being in yellow won’t help much, he said.

“Yellow isn’t going to help a restaurant. Does this mean we can test drive a car, or will we have to go to New Jersey for that?” he wondered.

The ReOpen movement recently put up billboards in Philadelphia, Bucks and Montgomery counties and is planning to put up more, but hopes not to have to.

“We’re really hoping to work ourselves out of a cause here,” he said.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health

“We look forward to continue working with the County Commissioners as we begin countywide testing and contact tracing in advance of moving to the yellow phase,” spokesman John Lines said in an email. “We’re proud to be partnering with the Chamber and EDC, as our joint efforts re-ignite economic revitalization and strengthen the health and well-being of our county.”

UPMC Pinnacle

“We have enough ventilators, protective equipment, beds and highly trained staff to meet our communities' needs,” Brooks Turkel, UPMC Pinnacle president of the Lancaster region, said in an email. “Plans are ready so that we can move nimbly should we see increasing numbers of COVID-19 positive patients needing hospitalization.”

He said the system “has taken a number of additional steps to keep patients and staff safe, with extensive safety measures and precautions that will remain in place throughout our health system, including pre-entry screenings, comprehensive masking polices, and rigorous cleaning and disinfection within our locations.”

Landis Communities

The nonprofit includes a sizable continuing care retirement community in Manheim Township. A written statement said Landis Communities “continues to follow the strictest guidelines set forth by the State of Pennsylvania.”

“When the Governor moves Lancaster County to the Yellow Phase on June 5, we will be prepared to begin transitioning Residential Living activities and services in accordance with these guidelines,” it said. “We anticipate this will be a slower process for us, as the health and safety of our residents, clients and team members remains our primary concern. Healthcare and Personal Care will continue to follow the direction of the PA Department of Health, the CDC and CMS.“

LeadingAge PA

“We are supportive of a cautious reopening, where Pennsylvanians are safe and able to return to work and their lives," president and CEO Adam Marles said in an email.

"But we also need to remember that for our older adults, especially in long-term care settings, a county moving to yellow doesn’t mean that they do not remain at great risk. The threat remains for them, and every person who works in any older adults setting has the potential to be an asymptomatic carrier into the resident community. So, masks and social distancing remain imperative for their safety."

"Until adequate PPE and testing is widely available, as well as a comprehensive plan in place, a rapid reopening has the potential to cost our seniors their lives,” he concluded.

Pennsylvania Health Care Association

Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the association that represents many Lancaster County nursing homes, said in an email that as counties across Pennsylvania continue to take steps toward the green and yellow phases, “it is imperative that the critical needs of long-term care providers, including testing and personal protective equipment, that protect residents and staff, be prioritized.”

“These facilities are integral parts of our communities: frontline staff in these facilities return to their families at the end of their shifts and residents are often discharged to the hospital, or to their homes,” he wrote. “Reopening efforts that do not consider these challenges risks the health and safety of those on the front lines and the residents in their care.”