In a letter sent to Gov. Tom Wolf on Sunday, 13 Republican federal, state and county elected officials wrote that Lancaster County will move Friday from the “red” phase of the state’s reopening plan into the “yellow” phase, in defiance of the Democratic governor. The county has been in the red phase — that is, under a strict stay-at-home order — since March 27. As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Abigail King and Gillian McGoldrick reported, under the yellow phase, “some businesses that aren’t life-sustaining could reopen and gatherings of up to 25 people would be allowed, following health guidelines. However, ‘telework must continue where feasible,’ restaurants remain limited to takeout and delivery, and schools remain closed,” according to Wolf’s guidelines.
We’ve questioned the governor’s lack of transparency during the COVID-19 crisis. Now we have questions for the elected officials who have declared their intention to depart from the governor’s plan.
The signatories to the letter to Wolf were U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker; state House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, state Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin, and state Reps. Mindy Fee, Keith Greiner, David Hickernell, Steve Mentzer, Brett Miller and Dave Zimmerman; county Commissioners Ray D’Agostino and Josh Parsons; and county Sheriff Chris Leppler.
As they’ve been so vocal in demanding answers from the governor, we’re certain they’ll be willing — even eager — to answer these questions.
So here goes.
1. To be considered for a partial reopening under the state guidelines, counties must have fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over the previous 14 days. Lancaster County's score under that metric dropped to 114 by Monday — still more than twice the level that the Wolf administration says is safe for reopening. You have questioned the state’s metrics. What specific metrics are you using and how are they better than those used by the state?
2. We understand from LNP | LancasterOnline’s reporting that you didn’t consult local hospital officials — or even the county commissioners’ own public health emergency adviser — before sending your letter to the governor. What medical experts and epidemiologists advised you that Lancaster County could safely move into the next phase of the state’s reopening plan? Please name them.
3. Didn’t you just render the state plan — and its phases — meaningless by declaring that you’ll act without the governor’s approval?
4. Can’t businesses now declare that they’ll reopen without taking any social distancing measures, given that Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams, also a Republican, announced Sunday that her office won’t prosecute stay-at-home order violations?
5. The governor’s executive order on businesses during the COVID-19 emergency has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to lift it. Does the Republican Party remain, in your view, the party of law and order?
6. How do you define the rule of law now?
7. The Republican Party prides itself on being pro-life. What level of loss of life are you willing to tolerate if your plan to move quickly to reopen Lancaster County sparks a wider COVID-19 outbreak?
8. You attached a “draft framework” of the commissioners’ plan for a Lancaster County COVID-19 Relief Fund, which would deploy funding from the federal CARES Act. Will the fund be operating by Friday, when you intend to move the county into the yellow phase? (Again, do the phases really matter now that you’re not really heeding them?)
9. You say all residents and staff members of the county’s 32 nursing homes will be tested for COVID-19. Which contractor will conduct those tests? From where have you obtained enough testing kits to cover people without symptoms? How frequently will those tests be performed?
10. We are very pro-testing, but we must ask: What type of test will be used in nursing homes? Will it be the type that requires that a swab be inserted deep into the nasal cavity? If it is, is it fair to subject asymptomatic elderly individuals to such a painful procedure?
11. Who is the health consultant who will review and train on COVID-19 mitigation procedures in the county’s nursing homes?
12. In your letter to the governor, you wrote of “Lancaster County’s world-renowned collaborative spirit.” Why didn’t any Democrats sign your letter, if you are working in that “world-renowned” spirit? And why didn’t you notify the Lancaster Chamber and the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County — whose economic recovery plan you cite — before sending your letter?
13. Relatedly, Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace asked some excellent questions in response to your letter. She believes the answer to these questions are “no,” but we’d be grateful if you could answer them directly. First: “Does the county have a plan to increase testing countywide?”
14. “Has the county implemented countywide contact tracing?”
15. “Does the county have an early warning system in place so that we can continue to ensure our health care systems do not become overwhelmed in the future?”
16. Does the county have sufficient personal protective equipment “ready for distribution to our businesses?”
17. “Does the county have a fund up and running to offset costs related to retrofitting facilities?”
18. Now back to our own questions. Wolf declared Monday that businesses “in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides.” Will the county cover the liability of businesses that lose these protections?
19. Wolf also announced that county residents “receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers.” How will businesses operate without enough employees?
20. Say your teenage kid comes home and says he wants to have a party with 40 of his friends. You say that he can’t because it’s still not safe for people to gather in groups that large. He ignores you. Will you discipline him? If you don’t respect the law, why should our children?
21. This is National Hospital Week. Before you sent your letter to the governor, did you consider the potential impact on hospital employees? What will you say to the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, hospital cleaners and others who are risking their lives now to care for COVID-19 patients?
22. Now that you’ve exercised what effectively is a nuclear option, is there any chance of future collaboration with Mayor Sorace, Gov. Wolf and others in the Wolf administration? You’ve taken Lancaster County to the edge of a cliff. Is there any way of going back to a place where cooperation and reasoned discussion are possible?
We eagerly await your responses.