Commissioners of Pennsylvania’s Columbia County sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf (D) on Wednesday, informing him of the county’s decision to begin reopening on Friday despite his threats.
“As the duly elected Commissioners of Columbia County, this letter will serve to inform you of our intention to move from the Red Phase to the Yellow Phase of your COVID-19 Phased Reopening Plan, effective May 15, 2020,” the commissioners wrote in the letter.
The red phase, under Wolf’s reopening plan, bars non-life essential businesses from operating. He has since extended that order to June 4. Columbia County has not been included in the two batches of counties Wolf has authorized to move into the yellow phase, which slowly eases restrictions, allowing some businesses to reopen, albeit with certain restrictions.
Columbia County commissioners told the governor that citizens have “responded in good faith and good intention” to the implementation of the original stay-at-home order and noted that hospitals and healthcare providers do not lack the capacity or equipment needed to treat coronavirus patients moving forward.
“We Commissioners have seen firsthand how our citizens have responded to this crisis in an educated and diligent fashion. We have heard the pleas of our citizens who desire to safely re-open their businesses and safely return to work,” they said.
They continued, stressing that the resolution is not a mandate but a measure giving business owners the freedom to choose to operate:
We trust our business owners and citizens to make the right decision for their individual circumstances. The Resolution we Commissioners passed today requires in no way for any “Non-Life-Sustaining” business to open its doors for business. Neither does our Resolution require our citizens to patronize such business. Rather, we Commissioners believe strongly that our businesses and citizens have the requisite common sense to determine what is best for themselves. This is not a mandate.
The commissioners acknowledged this week’s threat from Wolf — who warned that the state could revoke licenses from businesses that open in violation of his orders — stating that it would be “disrespectful” to the people of Columbia County if he were to pursue such action:
Lastly, if you, as Governor, want to use the heavy hand of your authority and Office to attack Columbia County, her businesses and citizens through the use Commonwealth Agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, we believe that to be out of character for you and disrespectful to the great people of Columbia County.
“We didn’t want to do what we did today,” Democrat Columbia County Commissioner David Kovach said of the board’s decision. “But we felt we needed to make a statement.”
“We don’t want to be rogue. We do not,” Commissioner Chris Young said. “But we’re also hearing the passionate pleas from our business community. They’re saying, ‘I need to get back to work.'”
According to Fox 29, the resolution comes with a minor exception. If Wolf allows Columbia County to lawfully move into the next phase of reopening next week, Friday, May 22, they will “retract their decision and go back to red until that date.”
“Regardless, the county will at least be in the ‘yellow phase’ for a few hours until Gov. Wolf speaks,” the outlet added.
Columbia County had 330 cases of the coronavirus and 28 related deaths as of Thursday morning, according to the state’s health department data. However, over one-third of those cases are tied to nursing home residents (94) and employees (31), and all but four the county’s virus deaths — 24 of 28 — are connected to nursing homes.
Three more Pennsylvania counties — Lancaster, Lebanon, and Beaver — are considering reopening their counties on Friday as well.