County officials did not advise local hospital officials before deciding Sunday to begin a cautious reopening this week.
In a letter sent Sunday, 13 Republican officials in Lancaster County told Governor Tom Wolf that the county would reopen under his yellow coronavirus criteria on Friday. Meantime, Wolf’s administration still has the county classified as red until at least June 4.
Republican Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons said Monday the signatories did not specifically consult with hospital officials before sending the letter Sunday.
“We’ve been talking to them continuously,” Parsons said of hospital officials and leaders of county business organizations. “Not specifically about the letter. They all know very clearly what my position has been.”
Parsons also said the county’s newly-hired health adviser was not apprised of the letter’s details because it was a “policy decision.”
Republican Commissioner Ray D’Agostino similarly said the health adviser and county hospital leaders have a clear understanding of where the county is in the fight against COVID-19.
“We are in constant communication with those individuals and the fact is that we’ve been talking about being ready to open in a limited fashion with all these people,” he said.
The county’s public health emergency adviser, Edwin Hurston, who earns $1,800 weekly, said Monday that county officials “sought (his) counsel on several issues.” He was aware the letter was being sent to the governor, but did not know the full contents of the letter and its plan, or the number of signatories.
Hurston said his “personal feelings aren’t relevant” in the decision of Lancaster County moving from red to yellow, and he has been “given a set of tasks and is working to execute those tasks to the best of (his) ability.”
Dr. Stephen Diamantoni, the county’s coroner, called the move from red to yellow “reasonable.”
Lancaster General Health confirmed it also was not aware of the letter prior to its publication. So did the Lancaster County Economic Development Company and the Lancaster Chamber, whose reopening plan the letter cites as a model.
None of the organizations indicated specifically if they agreed or disagreed with the letter or the decision to reopen.
Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman said he did not receive notice of the letter to the governor until Sunday morning, shortly before it was published. He said that once contact tracing and increased testing are in place, he would be willing to advocate for a move to the yellow phase before June 4.
But those things won’t be in place by Friday, he said, even if the board of commissioners approves the spending for them at Wednesday’s regular meeting.
“The letter that was sent this weekend had nothing to do with public health and put public safety at risk,” Lehman said. “Since I was notified of the letter at the last minute, the letter had partisan intent. If they were really interested a bipartisan approach, they would have brought Democrats in on the front end rather than the 11th hour.”
At least one area retirement community agreed with Lehman that it is not yet time to move Lancaster County to the yellow phase of a partial reopening.
In a statement, Landis Homes, a continuing care retirement community in Manheim Township, said it “believes that this is not in the best interest of our residents, clients and team members.
“We have provided our response to the officials and asked for clarification on the elements of their plan, primarily regarding access to and funding for testing as well as providing personal protective equipment.”
Staff writer Abigail King contributed to this report.