Thirteen Republican federal, state and county elected officials — including county Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino — declared in a letter May 10 that they would move Lancaster County from the “red” phase of the state’s reopening plan into the less-restrictive “yellow” phase May 15, which would allow some retail businesses to open. Democratic County Commissioner Craig Lehman objected to the Republicans’ move, asking that reopening wait until contact tracing and ramped-up testing were in place.
Was it worth it?
Was it worth dividing county residents on the question of whether Lancaster County should move to the yellow phase of reopening without state approval?
Was it worth drawing the disapproval of a stalwart Republican like Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen, who called the GOP declaration “political and not science-driven?”
Was it worth drawing the disapproval of more than a dozen local religious leaders, who characterized the GOP officials’ action as “civil disobedience”?
In a letter to the commissioners, the clergy members wrote that such civil disobedience should be “a last-resort tactic, to be engaged in after thorough deliberation when all other avenues of moral and legal persuasion have failed” — conditions they did not believe were met.
As LNP | LancasterOnline reported, these religious leaders — Episcopal, Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, Jewish, Mennonite, Lutheran, Baptist and others — wrote of congregants being unable to get tested for COVID-19. They wrote of their concern that the GOP declaration would “send the wrong signal, encouraging people to abandon sensible measures, like wearing masks, that protect workers.”
“We expect our governmental leaders to build consensus rather than provoke conflict,” their letter said. “Too often our neighbors prioritize individual freedom over community well-being. Our faith traditions embrace the rights of individuals within the context of community.”
Commissioner Lehman had asked his colleagues to wait until May 22 — this Friday — when essential elements for reopening would be in place.
In an op-ed published Tuesday in LNP | LancasterOnline, Lehman wrote that “any call to reopen must be grounded in readiness. The selection of May 15 was completely arbitrary, with no public health basis.”
He also noted: “Our economy has always been fueled by public confidence. When public confidence is high and on the rise, our economy performs well. When public confidence is low, stagnant or declining, our economy performs poorly. ... True economic recovery depends on improving public confidence.”
And people are worried about the novel coronavirus. A new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 83% of Americans are concerned that lifting restrictions in their area will lead to additional COVID-19 infections.
Which is why Lehman’s more cautious approach was the sensible one.
As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one with serious reservations about last Friday’s premature reopening. LNP | LancasterOnline reporting indicates that many business owners weren’t willing to reopen without state approval.
All that sound and fury, it appears, signified not much at all.
Now, finally, the pieces are being put into place for a safer reopening. And, credit where credit is due, we laud the commissioners for helping to make these essential public health measures a reality.
The commissioners approved an agreement Wednesday with the Lancaster Chamber and Economic Development Company of Lancaster County to implement an economy recovery plan that includes providing grants and personal protective equipment to small businesses.
The commissioners also approved a contract Wednesday with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
The awaited contact tracing and testing efforts will be in operation Friday.
As LG Health spokesman John Lines explained in an email, “We start Friday with more than 20 nurses who already have been counseling COVID-19-positive patients we’ve tested since early in the pandemic. We’re building a larger team to carry out the contact-tracing program, designed to trace and counsel up to an average of 50 new COVID-19 positive cases per day.”
Per its agreement with the county, LG Health will seek to “complete the contact tracing and notifications for each new COVID-19 positive individual within 24 hours,” Lines said.
The health system also is working to open additional testing sites in the county, in both rural and urban areas, with extended hours for nights and weekends; it will offer mobile testing for those who are homebound. The aim is to be able to handle up to 1,000 individuals per day.
We are heartened that these efforts are now underway.
We just believe these measures should have been in place before the Republicans’ reopening declaration.
It was clear that businesses faced potential legal consequences if they reopened without state approval. (And to be clear: Even now, if they open without official approval from the governor, they take on some extra risk.)
We understand the urgency in favor of reopening, but not the carelessness of the GOP declaration in defiance of the governor.
This was a political stunt that, rather than helping businesses, put them in potential peril.
Indeed, it seemed mostly aimed at undermining the authority of the governor. Or at getting his attention.
We can understand the frustration. Republican state lawmakers say they’ve tried to work with Wolf on reopening the economy to no avail. And they’ve watched as the governor has vetoed legislation that would reopen an economic sector — real estate, for instance — and then has moved unilaterally on that front. He’s repeatedly chosen executive action over collaboration — which we find frustrating, too.
The bitter partisan volleying has left Lancaster County residents trapped in the middle.
Some things are more important than political wins and losses. Lives are at stake. We’d like to see more care exercised moving forward.