Leaders of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County clashed with protesters on Monday over their refusal to defy the governor’s order and move to reopen.
Susquehanna County is located in the state’s most restrictive red phase, which only permits “life-sustaining” businesses to operate, minus those that received waivers from the state — a shadowy process that has led to a number of unanswered questions regarding criteria from the governor, and prompted a class action lawsuit on behalf of businesses who did not receive an exemption.
Some residents desperately want county leaders to follow in the footsteps of other Pennsylvania counties, which vowed to move forward with reopening, regardless of the governor’s orders. Susquehanna County commissioners, however, are hesitant to do so, contending that they must act within their legal bounds.
“To be effective, it has to be legal. We just can’t do things to defy,” Susquehanna County Commissioner Alan Hall said, according to Fox 56.
Protesters confronted the commissioners outside of the Susquehanna County Courthouse in Montrose, demanding freedom.
“People died for our freedom. We’re not free,” one protester said.
“We’re not sheep, we’re people,” another shouted.
“Susquehanna County in 14 days has had zero cases. So what it the logic behind saying you have to be shut down,” state Senator Gene Yaw (R) noted:
— Viktoria Hallikäär (@ViktoriaKrista) May 11, 2020
“We need you guys to do your part,” Commissioner Judith Herschel said. “Your part is simple. Just follow the CDC guidelines and stay calm. Be educated, Do [sic] what we need to do.”
“I think the public has the feeling that we know more and we’re not telling them anything, but to be honest with you we really don’t,” Commissioner Elizabeth Arnold said — a sentiment Al Bisner, a Hallstead resident who organized the protest, seemed to acknowledge.
“There’s a lot of frustration, they want answers. But also, the county commissioners want answers too. They’re sending emails and phone calls to the governor, just like us citizens are,” Bisner said.
“And they’re not getting any answers back. The governor’s being quiet on this whole thing. He doesn’t care about Susquehanna County and that’s why we have to make our voice heard,” Bisner added.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Monday threatened to withhold federal stimulus discretionary funds from counties that defy his orders, and while Susquehanna County leaders are hesitant to act outside of his instructions, they appear just as frustrated by the governor.
“Our numbers were down to less than half of what we needed. No explanations, no phone calls, nothing,” oCmmissioner Alan Hall stated. “They say there’s other criteria, but then they don’t share this information.”
“We have no reason as to why we’re not open. … The people making the decisions in Harrisburg about our county have no idea about our county. And if they are calling, they are definitely calling the wrong people,” Hall added:
— Elizabeth Worthington (@ElizWorth16) May 11, 2020
Susquehanna County has only seen 81 positive cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. It remains in the red phase and is not included in the group of 13 counties that are permitted to move into the yellow phase this week.