COVID-19 Update: Wolf lays down the law with rebel counties, even as Trump Tweets support for lawlessness

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times, @mikemncgannpa

Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf laid down the law Monday, literally, making it clear that counties and states that chose to ignore his emergency pandemic business shut down orders would face consequences ranging from loss of federal COVID-19 recovery funding, loss of insurance, licenses and other civil penalties, even as President Donald Trump took to Twitter Monday to encourage open rebellion against state orders.

Trump Tweeted the following Monday morning:

“The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”

Presidential Tweet or not, Wolf pulled no punches Monday, suggesting officials in those counties were “surrendering” to COVID-19.

“Pennsylvanians are fighting for our lives,” Gov. Wolf said. “We have fought this deadly virus in the best way we can, and sacrificed in ways we could never have imagined. It has been a new kind of heroism – in many ways a quiet heroism. These heroic acts deserve to be met not by surrendering, but by staying the course.”

Officials in Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon, Lancaster and Schuylkill counties are among counties in recent days suggesting they would reopen their counties, regardless of Wolf’s emergency orders. 24 counties moved last week to a more open “Yellow” status with 13 added this coming Friday. The status changes are driven, Wolf said, by new case numbers, testing and other metrics. Neighboring states are using similar systems.

Chester County is not among those counties in rebellion, and while likely to be among the last in the commonwealth to see transitioning to Yellow status from Red, county officials have worked aggressively to meet standards from the state and has cooperated closely with state officials to battle the pandemic.

Wolf said Monday there would be consequences for those counties remaining in “Red” status ignoring the state.

“I cannot allow residents in a red county to get sick because their local officials can’t see the invisible risk of the virus in their community,” Wolf said. “So, I must, and I will impose consequences if a county locally lifts restrictions when it has not yet been given the go-ahead by the state.”

The governor outlined the following consequences to counties that do not abide by the law to remain closed:

• Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000. 

Businesses in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides. The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance released details of this earlier today.

• Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will be at risk of losing their liquor license.

• 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.

Wolf was emphatic that this is not the time to give up the fight, just as COVID-19 case numbers around the state are improving.

“This is not a time to give up,” Wolf said. “This is a time to rededicate ourselves to the task of beating this virus. I intend to keep fighting, and I believe that the overwhelming majority of my fellow Pennsylvanians intend to keep fighting it too. With that unity, I know we can win.”

After some spikes last week, both Pennsylvania and Chester County saw significant drops in new COVID-19 cases Sunday.

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 543 news cases, bringing the statewide total to 57,154. DOH reported 24 new deaths, bringing the total of fatalities in the state to 3,731.

Chester County Health reported just 20 new cases Sunday, the lowest number reported since April 4. Tempering that news, though, a spike of 90 cases — the highest single day total to date — was reported Saturday.

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