Gov. Wolf Offers 'Standards,' but No Timetable Yet, for Reopening Pennsylvania
April 17, 2020 3:45 PM
by Geoff Rushton
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Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday outlined a framework for a "regional, sector-based approach" to a phased reopening Pennsylvania's economy.

Wolf, however, provided no timetable or specific steps for moving forward as the state battles the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that more details would be announced next week as he continues to consult with public health and economic experts.

"Unfortunately, we cannot flip a switch and reopen the commonwealth," Wolf said. "There isn’t going to be one big day. We need to make smart, data-driven decisions. We can’t be impulsive. We can’t be emotional. We need to follow the science."

Since Pennsylvania's first coronavirus cases in early March, Wolf has instituted a series of escalating measures designed to slow the pandemic's spread and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Non-life-sustaining businesses were closed, the entire state was placed under a stay-at-home order, and residents now will be required to wear masks when entering establishments that are still opened.

But with businesses crippled and more than 1.4 million Pennsylvanians filing for unemployment since March 15, Wolf has faced growing pressure to offer a specific plan for getting the state back to work. Critics have said the business closures are inconsistent, allowing some to remain open while others are shuttered without explanation. The Republican-controlled legislature this week passed a bill that would require Wolf to follow federal guidance for his emergency measures and another that would give county leadership greater authority to allow some parts of the economy to reopen while following federal public health guidelines.

Wolf's "Relief, Reopening and Recovery" plan included a lengthy list of measures currently in place or being enhanced to support individuals, businesses and health care providers. 

He offered six "standards" that would guide reopening. He said the approach "will rely upon quantifiable criteria to drive a targeted, evidence-based regional approach."

Recommendations will be issued to employers, individuals and health care facilities "for assured accountability as we reopen,"  and adequate personal protective equipment and testing will be necessary.

The state will need a monitoring program "that allows the commonwealth to deploy swift action for containment or mitigation if it’s necessary," Wolf said.

Protections for vulnerable populations will remain in place throughout reopening, including limits on visitations to congregate care facilities and prisons.

Limits on large gatherings also will remain in place for the duration of the reopening, he said.

Wolf also offered a long list of proposals to help individuals, businesses and health care providers recover as the state reopens.

"There’s not one policy or one answer or one ideology that can solve all of our problems ahead on our road to recovery," he said.

Wolf — who earlier this week joined with governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware to coordinate reopening their economies —  also acknowledged President Donald Trump's plan to gradually reopen parts of the country that see a consistent downward trend in COVID-19 cases over 14-day periods.

"We must have a plan that respects reality of situation on ground and that works with our local, regional and federal partners," said Wolf, who did not discuss specific numbers or trends that would be needed for reopening. "All of us are anxious to reopen the commonwealth. As a former business owner I deeply share the concerns of some in the legislature, but we cannot exacerbate the pandemic’s damage on Pennsylvanians and their lives. We need to be careful and deliberate.  We need the flexibility to react to new outbreaks."

State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R- Brockway, and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said in a joint statement that Wolf's plan was "disappointing" and lacked specificity and transparency.

“We remain open and willing to work with Governor Wolf on a real plan to that puts Pennsylvania first," they said. "It is imperative that Governor Wolf prioritizes working with the legislature, as well as with local leaders within our counties, above working with select governors from other northeastern states.  We are tired of hearing his rhetoric that he wants to work with us, while at the same time making unilateral decisions. It is far past time for him to abandon his go-it-alone approach and come to the table to work with the General Assembly on real solutions.”

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