Congress

The U.S. Capitol is pictured in this file photo from July 2017.

THE ISSUE

While Pennsylvania and the nation have been understandably transfixed with Election Day and the ongoing rollout of results this week, COVID-19 continues to take a stronger, deadlier grip. Pennsylvania officials reported 2,900 new cases Thursday, setting yet another daily record. Additionally, “the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also continued to march higher, hitting 1,531 statewide on Thursday,” LNP | LancasterOnline noted. “That was an increase of 179 patients — or 13% — from just two days earlier.” More than 234,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

While the novel coronavirus continues its unforgiving spread through communities, there were vital functions of American democracy that simply had to take place.

So we are incredibly grateful to the elections officials, poll workers and ballot counters who have put in long days to make this election possible.

These are hardly work-from-home jobs. They involve training sessions, working in groups, setting up polling locations and, for many, interacting with hundreds or even thousands of voters on Election Day.

Amazingly, in Lancaster County there were more volunteers for this work than volunteer positions required to help successfully administer the election.

“These are people who truly believe in this,” Randall Wenger, chief clerk of the Lancaster County Board of Elections, told LNP | LancasterOnline earlier this autumn.

It’s an incredible act of patriotism on their part.

But also, we say, an act of heroism amid this health crisis.

Because the pandemic is worsening. Of that there is no doubt.

Once the votes are all counted and we know who the president-elect is, it’s imperative that we return our attention to COVID-19.

Lest you think this nation is the only one battling a new surge of the deadly virus, look at Europe.

The Guardian reported Thursday that France had more than 58,000 new cases over a 24-hour period — a record. Additionally, Italy marked its highest daily death toll (445) since late April.

And England on Thursday began its second nationwide lockdown as its death toll surpassed 48,000 and officials worried about the availability of hospital beds. Nonessential shops and venues will be closed there for the next four weeks.

The COVID-19 numbers are increasingly alarming in the U.S., too. We must not become numb to these statistics. Behind each one, there are countless lives, families and livelihoods being affected.

“Daily new confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. have surged 45% over the past two weeks, to a record 7-day average of 86,352, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University,” The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The United States reported more than 109,000 new coronavirus cases Thursday — the highest number of new cases in a single day since the pandemic began.

And, according to data from Johns Hopkins and CNN, the U.S. is now averaging 871 COVID-19 deaths per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

Even if we keep that daily fatality rate from rising — and it’s clearly trending upward — 871 deaths per day would mean more than 17,000 additional deaths between now and Thanksgiving; more than 42,000 additional deaths between now and Christmas; and more than 65,000 additional deaths between now and Inauguration Day.

A great sorrow is that we might not be able to stop the majority of those deaths at this point. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to combat the pandemic on multiple fronts.

That — as we’ve written in dozens of editorials this year — means wearing masks and social distancing in public.

It means listening to and following the guidance of health and science experts.

It means understanding, to protect those we hold most dear, that we must find different ways to celebrate the holidays in the final two months of 2020. Traditional gatherings of family members from across regions and states could have catastrophic consequences, as we’ve seen with devastating examples of COVID-19’s impact on wedding parties and similar gatherings in recent months.

It means that we must demand more of our elected leaders in response to this crisis.

Congress must pass another stimulus bill to help offset COVID-19’s crushing impact on families, small businesses and our cities.

In August, we wrote that “the next stimulus must help undergird the finances of cities across America in this unprecedented crisis. There can be no strong recovery if our metropolitan centers are bankrupt and staffed by skeleton crews.”

Yet there has been no movement on a federal stimulus in months. Election politics scuttled any chance of Washington lawmakers providing Americans with needed assistance. That’s unacceptable. We must continue telling Congressman Lloyd Smucker and Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey that we need help now.

State lawmakers, too, must end infighting and work together to provide meaningful help for Pennsylvanians worried about their jobs, their businesses, housing and feeding their families. We understand the daunting task they face with the state budget this month, but that is all the more reason for bipartisanship and prioritizing what is needed to navigate the pandemic this winter.

We need help for our schools, too. Many have neither sufficient funding nor resources to rise to this unprecedented challenge. Fair funding for schools in Pennsylvania is more crucial than ever, and emergency funding should be considered too, before we lose a generation of at-risk young learners.

On any of these fronts, failure would be catastrophic. Insufficient response could turn a health crisis into a disaster that sets Pennsylvania families and businesses back for a decade or more.

The election workers we mentioned at the start of this editorial put the needs of Lancaster County and their country ahead of their own priorities. Ahead of their own safety, even.

In the face of COVID-19, we must show the same altruism and resolve. And we must demand the same of our elected officials.