ballot counting Wednesday

County workers and volunteers count mail-in ballots for the second day inside the Lancaster County Convention Center on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

THE ISSUE

After several days and nights of waiting and vote-counting, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris defeated incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Biden had received more than 74 million votes as of Saturday afternoon, more than any other presidential candidate in U.S. history; he and Harris secured an Electoral College victory by winning Pennsylvania. Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, will be this nation's first woman and first Black vice president. And as LNP | LancasterOnline’s Gillian McGoldrick reported, Lancaster County Republican incumbents — including Congressman Lloyd Smucker — “all won another term in Tuesday’s election, even after Democrats spent record sums on a handful of state legislative races.” According to The Associated Press, Timothy DeFoor, who is Black, will be Pennsylvania’s first elected “row officer” of color and the first Republican elected to the office of state auditor general since 1992.

Last week may have been the longest week in this interminably long year.

Faced with a presidential election in which more than 65 million voters cast their ballots by mail, meaning that the count took longer than in previous years, Americans had to do something no one enjoys: They had to wait.

Whether they were watching Bill Hemmer dissect the numbers on Fox News, or Steve Kornacki on MSNBC, or John King on CNN, Americans spent a good deal of last week trying to keep track of election results in places like Clayton County, Georgia; Clark County, Nevada; and Pennsylvania’s own Allegheny County. It was exhausting.

The other count

Meanwhile, the realities beyond those red-and-blue interactive TV studio maps kept intruding, as the nation kept its eyes on a separate, distressing count: the rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

By Saturday evening, the U.S. had seen more than 236,000 deaths caused by the novel coronavirus, and more than 9.8 million cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

On Thursday, the U.S. reported more than 121,000 new coronavirus cases — the highest number of new cases in a single day since the pandemic began.

And, as of Friday, Pennsylvania had seen 223,950 COVID-19 cases — including 10,562 in Lancaster County — and 8,975 deaths, according to the state Department of Health. This county had seen 456 deaths, according to county Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni.

The numbers can be, well, numbing. It’s hard to conceptualize so much loss, so much sorrow. Perhaps that’s why so many — too many — of us still haven’t embraced mask-wearing and social distancing, the simple but effective measures that represent our best hope of limiting COVID-19’s lethal spread. The cavalry in the form of a vaccine may be on the horizon, but it’s still distant. We’re going to need to wear masks and practice social distancing into 2021 and perhaps even 2022, medical experts say, because it’s going to take time to distribute a vaccine even after one is approved.

A tragedy

Tragically, Manheim Township School District lost one of its own last week to COVID-19: school guidance counselor Alexandra Chitwood.

Chitwood was just 47. She had spent 18 years serving in the district. She was beloved by students and her colleagues. Students with whom she worked said she had changed their lives for the better. One Manheim Township graduate recalled eating lunch every day with Mrs. Chitwood during a difficult time. Her death saddened everyone who knew her or was helped by her.

And it must have shaken school employees across Lancaster County, especially as more than 200 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in county schools and some schools have been forced to close temporarily because of suspected outbreaks.

Chitwood’s death is a devastating reminder that we’re facing a lethal virus, and all the data about school transmission rates — while helpful — cannot take every risk factor into account.

School officials are making decisions we can’t imagine having to make, trying to balance the educational needs of students with the health and safety of their staff members.

What they need — what we all need — most of all is for this pandemic to be managed more effectively.

We’re all going to need to do our part. And that’s going to mean putting aside the acrimony and distrust of recent months to work toward a common goal: defeating COVID-19.

The way forward

That will mean that Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican leaders of the state Legislature will need to work together, instead of bickering over worn-out points of contention.

We are facing a serious crisis. Instead of taking potshots at the governor on social media over perceived past missteps, Republican state lawmakers need to work with the Wolf administration to figure out how best to get the commonwealth through what is shaping up to be the toughest winter of our lives. And Wolf, the state’s top elected official, must try to rebuild bridges of communication and cooperation. COVID-19 cannot be seen as one more partisan flashpoint.

Politicians should be able to understand loss, what the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus described as the pain that falls “drop by drop upon the heart” until “in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Empathy should lead them to act to protect health care workers risking their lives to care for COVID-19 patients; people with preexisting health conditions; essential workers and school employees.

We understand the daunting task that lies before state lawmakers as they wrestle with the state budget in the coming weeks. But, as we wrote Friday, “that is all the more reason for bipartisanship and prioritizing what is needed to navigate the pandemic this winter.”

Likewise, Congress needs to pass another stimulus bill to help struggling Americans — and U.S. Rep. Smucker and Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey need to press the concerns of their constituents and put politics aside. The election is over. This pandemic, and its terrible economic consequences, show no signs of ebbing. If ever there was a time for easing hostilities for the good of the American people, this is it.

It is time for those who are taking or returning to office to begin the work of leading. To do that, they need to find common ground with their political opponents. Logical places to start are finding the balance between addressing the pandemic — respecting the science and the data to find the most effective and cost-effective ways of bringing it under control — and the need for our businesses and schools to operate. This is the art of governing, rather than campaigning. We all want to get back to work and school, and do it safely. Finding that balance is the job of our elected officials.

We wrote several times last week about the poll workers and vote counters who braved the pandemic to ensure that our democratic process worked. There they were — in convention centers and municipal buildings, individuals of all races and creeds, a true cross-section of America, working tirelessly for hours on end, while our political tribes at the local, state and national levels were enmeshed in counterproductive partisan battles.

While the incumbent president raged, while the nation nervously waited, they worked to carry out the task with which they were charged: counting the votes in the most important election in our lifetimes.

Our elected officials could learn from their example. Our national health crisis requires that they do.

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