Pennsylvania counties are weighing the possibility of reopening on Friday despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) threats.
Several county leaders across Pennsylvania have been in talks to defy the governor’s order and charge ahead with reopening without the governor’s permission. The discussions drew a pointed response from Wolf, who on Monday threatened both counties and business owners who would dare reopen in violation of his decrees.
“To those politicians who decide to cave in to this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act,” Wolf said, warning that he would withhold federal stimulus discretionary funding from counties operating outside of his orders.
He also said the state could revoke health department certificates, liquor licenses, and certificates of occupancy from businesses that follow suit.
Leaders of three counties — Lebanon, Beaver, and Lancaster — are weighing the possibility of forging ahead and reopening on Friday, alongside the 13 counties Wolf formally authorized to move from red to yellow.
Lebanon officials indicated on Monday that they were planning to move ahead, but the final vote to do so is scheduled for Friday. Commissioners in Lancaster and Beaver counties have also indicated that they support moving ahead, but according to PennLive, “it was still unclear whether they were going to take a formal action or, without that, what effect their statements would have”:
The last pockets of resistance Wednesday were in Lebanon and Lancaster, two south central counties that have new case rates still well in excess of the administration’s threshold for starting to reopen, and Beaver County on the Ohio line, which is the only county in western Pennsylvania that is not scheduled to move to yellow by Friday under the governor’s plan.
The two Lebanon County commissioners supporting a Friday reopening said only businesses that wanted to take part would need to do so, knowing that they could face some consequences from the state, including losing liquor licenses or other state-required certifications. But they said they wanted to give their constituents that right.
“Many people are saying they can’t go on living off their credit line, skipping meals and waiting in lines for food,” Lebanon County Chairman Bob Phillips said, adding that “mom and pop shops” should be given the same opportunities as giant retailers.
“Come this Friday, we plan on opening because we’ve been getting hundreds of emails, text messages and phone calls that these business owners are on the brink of closing down,” Beaver County Board of Commissioners Daniel Camp III said on Wednesday.
Lebanon reported 849 cases of the coronavirus and related 19 deaths as of Thursday morning. Lancaster had 2,325 cases and 172 deaths — 150 of those deaths stemming from nursing homes. Over two-thirds of coronavirus cases in Beaver County, 509 of 364, stem from nursing homes, including employees of such facilities. Seventy-one of the 78 reported virus deaths in the county also stem from nursing homes.
Wolf’s threats appeared to cause some county leaders to back down. Commissioners of Pennsylvania’s capital county Dauphin decided on Wednesday to refrain from moving to the yellow phase of reopening on Friday, instead voting to create a task force designed to formulate a plan to reopen the local economy.
Similarly, leaders of Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County, while frustrated with Wolf’s orders, are refraining from reopening in defiance of the governor’s orders, contending that they must operate within the law.
“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.
However, the threats did little to stop Columbia County officials, who passed a resolution to bring the county into the yellow phase of reopening, beginning on Friday.
“We don’t want to be rogue. We do not. But we’re also hearing the passionate pleas from our business community,” Columbia County commissioner Chris Young said. “They’re saying, ‘I need to get back to work.'”
The resolution reads in part:
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.
Commissioners also blasted Wolf over the potential of retaliation, adding that it would be “out of character” and “disrespectful to the great people of Columbia County” to rip licenses away from business owners.