Coronavirus on Smart Talk Tuesday: Wolf says counties defying “red” level face repercussions; Report-state’s nursing home plan delay hurt

  • Scott LaMar

Gov. Tom Wolf says “politicians” in counties who are now in the red stage of the coronavirus stay-at-home, business shutdown and are threatening to defy the governor’s order and move to the yellow stage, are cowards and selfish. Wolf questioned whether officials in those counties are thinking about the spread of the virus and their constituents’ health.

Lancaster, Dauphin, Lebanon, Franklin and Schuylkill Counties are amongst those that say they will defy the governor’s orders this week because the majority of COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and workers are suffering financially.

Thirteen Republican elected officials signed a letter to the governor announcing plans for Lancaster County to move to the yellow stage, from red, on Friday. The yellow level would allow some retail businesses to re-open.

Republican State Senator Scott Martin of Lancaster County, a former County Commissioner himself, is on Tuesday’s Smart Talk to explain the move.

Cumberland County attorney David Mueller also joins us to list the repercussions counties and businesses could face if they go against the governor’s orders.

Finally, Spotlight PA reported that Pennsylvania had a robust and aggressive plan ready to protect the state’s nursing homes, but failed to enact it.

Critics of the Department of Health’s coronavirus response say this is why nearly 70% of COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes and private care homes. They also say that had officials used their first and more aggressive plan state facilities would be in much better shape today.

Joining us on Smart Talk Tuesday to share insight into the report is Spotlight PA Reporter Aneri Pattani.

Smart Talk received many emails during the first segment of the program; too many to adequately address with our guest. These are the emails that we were not able to process due to time-constraints.  

I am a long time listener of NPR and Smart Talk.  I wanted to add my comment to the discussion concerning  the reopening of York County without reaching the guidelines required by the governor.  I am a lifelong (70 yrs.) resident of York County, and I deeply resent the idea that a few Republican legislators would unilaterally decide, against the advice of Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine, that they should decide what is best for the health and safety of all York County citizens.  I expressed my views by email to Rep. Mike Jones and Sen. Kristen Phillips-Hill,  but I don’t believe that they care about my views.  If they did, they would have canvassed the views  of county residents before taking this action.

Catherine emailed: They are short sighted to believe that it is safe to resume normal operations.  They are discounting the threat to  every citizen of York County and the strain  on our medical  facilities.  If they want to risk their own lives, that is one thing, and I suppose they have the right to endanger their lives.  But, this decision does not affect only them – it puts the lives of all York County residents in jeopardy.  I urge them to hold off a bit longer until the guidelines developed by medical professionals are attained.

Lisa emailed: Mr. LaMar, thank you for an interesting show this morning. I did call in but I understand how many calls and emails you received. I was very surprised at the way Senator Martin spoke about the partisan issues in Harrisburg. Many of us involved in politics have been asking for more non-partisan discussions, yet the Senator used his time on your program to blatantly push is ideological rhetoric. A few important corrections to what Senator Martin said, first of all, by putting the stay at home order in place swiftly the Governor likely gave our healthcare workers the much needed respite and we were able to flatten the curve. Sadly, those in retirement and long-term care facilities could not be moved, where could they safely go? And there is no protection the Governor or anyone else could put in place to protect the elderly and ill from a virus that is most deadly to those exact people.It is the height of hypocrisy for Senator Martin to say he wants to work together and have bi-partisan effort and then attempt to blame the Governor and his Administration for the deaths in nursing homes.Second, there is no ongoing debate on Constitutionality, the case was decided. It is done. And now if any elected official refuses to uphold the order and protect our citizens it is my opinion the PA Constitution gives us the right to petition to remove them from office for “misbehavior”.Finally, how do we reopen safely? I called every Senator during the SB613 debate. Attached is a letter I sent to my Senator. Of the 7 or 8 Republican staffers I spoke to only 1 had actually read the CDC guidelines. It is sad that Senator Martin wasted your time and that of your listeners pushing petty partisan talking points rather than actually discussing how we protect workers and safely reopen. And maybe he should spend more time reading the research and guidelines and answer the questions before putting our citizens at risk for what sure sounds like purely partisan ideology.

Guy emailed: The waiver topic is separate and does not determine a county’s opening date. The COVID19 case rate does!!!!!!!! Period!!!! Deal with separately.

Jayme emailed: The biggest cheerleader for reopening the state, is telling us that drinking bleach might make a difference. How can we believe the Senator’s interest is for his constituents, when he and his Republican colleagues do not condemn these statements?

Ann emailed: I hear the Senator and understand there are discrepancies in opening up or not.  It is not a simple task to make those decisions.  Unfortunately politics, influence and money always seem to enter decisions. He would do the same thing; listen to those influences. This is an example of what politics has become in this country, ugly.There is another more important decision to concentrate on and that is virus caused deaths, to strive for many or fewer.  To get a better understanding everyone should look at the record from the 1918 flu pandemic.  Read, listen to, and see the pictures then tell me the economy is more important.  Philadelphia was the worst hit city in the U.S.  As many as 650,000 deaths in the U.S. with a much smaller population. In these times everyone must sacrifice and not waste energy protesting, often for unrelated causes.  Legislators should be following what is happening in other countries and learn from them when they are successful in curbing the non-political virus.  The virus doesn’t take sides! Educate yourselves folks, then open your mouths to criticize the experts.

Russell emailed: Quick comment on today’s show, Once again we are in the world of it’s okay if you’re a Republican. When Trump claims he has absolute Authority…that’s okay, even good. When governors, most notably Democratic governors, claim the same authority over their states, that is an overreach of power and must be checked. Thanks Scott, enjoy the show.

Jeff from Carlisle emailed: It’s one thing to have a position when actually no one really knows how, when to reopen. Ask the senator, What if he’s wrong? What if deaths spike upward? What will he do? Resign?

Doug emailed: Good points being made. Federal statute – the National Incident Management System, NIMS – establishes the relationships among federal, state, county and municipal governments for all-hazards planning and response. Primary responsibility is at the county level, but there’s strong state and federal roles/intervention/support based on scope (e.g. hurricanes). The key element of the law though is it’s to be a joint response, with all parties actively at the table, on a real-time basis.

Victor emailed: Tell the Senator that I’m my partner’s only caregiver, if I get sick, there is no one to take care of him. We are both in high risk groups and we aren’t in a nursing home.

Mike emailed: Sen Martin–I commend you for standing up to the Governor’s orders! We need our local economy back operating…of course with safeguards and no more “business as usual!” How can the Governor understand the “best interests of ALL 67 counties in PA?!?” We have 67 counties for a reason…the same reason we have 500 school districts. I am on a local school board and would not want the State of PA to come in and run our District expecting they “know what is best for our school and community!” Same with this issue! Focus funds in nursing homes where a huge % (“2/3”) of deaths occur!

Dot phoned with a comment: I don’t believe that re-opening is wise. Just because a business is open does not mean people will come.

Rick emailed: What about the risk of increased cases. LNP Sunday News Perspective by Jan Bergen LG Health CEO, 94 employees tested positive, 5 hospitalized, many lived away from their families, some family members infected with the virus. Is this fair to our health care workers?

Penny phoned with a comment: I’m a mobile groomer who got a waiver – why is he vetoing everything that comes across his desk for animals.  The health and safety of animals is getting overlooked by keeping services closed. Why is the governor being inconsistent?

Mike emailed: Gov Wolfe is doing a good job and republican criticism of Wolf is just a distraction from the incompetent leadership in the White House.

Victor emailed: If Lancaster County can attain the CDC guidelines for reopening, then and only then may you start to reopen. Stop trying to kill us older folk!

Sherron emailed: I’m over 65. I haven’t seen hand wipes, Lysol, or any kind of disinfectant to buy since this started. How are you going to keep working people safe?

Guy emailed: What commissioners are not stating are the facts. These counties are not yellow due to their number of COVID19 cases.

Nathan emailed: What, then, is the plan to take care of workers, so “wanting to go back to work” is not conflated with “have to go to work so they don’t lose anything”? How will you protect the vulnerable. Be specific. How will you protect workers? Be specific.

Joan emailed: I am listening to your program and I am so concerned that emotions are driving this and not caution. We need consistent leadership in unprecedented times, not politics. I believe that we can express concerns but not push back. When I see people around my town without masks and not practicing social distancing because of the politics I believe that we are not ready to open PA. More than anything we need consistent messaging not political and angry messaging. I am very disgusted with our officials. I want to feel safe and protected and when I see our officials and shop owners  without masks, what other precautions are they let slide. In my opinion, politicians should not be driving this. It is science based and caution needs to prevail! I want protection. I want my children protected. I want my mother in law protected. I want my friends protected. I hate seeing defiance, not caution!

Lisa phoned with a comment: I have read the re-open bill – I have many questions.  He wants to re-open without protection for workers?   What is his plan to protect workers?

Tom emailed: Have any medical organizations explicitly supported or come out in favor of these counties moving to yellow? Senator Martin says he receives the data but that is not the same as medical organizations agreeing with this step.

Sharon from Lancaster called with a comment: These decisions need to be science based – models changed because of the scientific approach (because we socially distanced). If we follow science based practices then we will continue to have a safer state.  It is disingenuous to say the initial models were falsely overstated.

Amanda emailed: I would like to ask the senator when he is going to put party politics aside and focus on the health and safety of the residents of PA. Your democratic colleagues proposed bills to address many of these issues, but you & your republican colleagues refused to consider them. You are also promoting the false narrative that the governor is hand picking who is opening and who remains closed. That is completely untrue. And you also need to admit that it really doesn’t matter what Governor Wolf says, or explains, or does, or proposes, you will not be happy and you will continue to attack him. It is easy for us to see the partisanship in your behavior because you are acting in an unsafe, partisan, money hungry and selfish way.

Jeremy tweeted: Would a better question be: how can we help citizens survive until it is safe to re-open the economy?

David emailed: What does the implementation  of the waiver list have to do with the scientific basis for reopening  businesses  in general or shifting to yellow status?

John emailed: Dr. Anthony Fauci’s goal for his testimony on the Hill today — to warn the country of the dangers of reopening too quickly — precisely undercuts what President Trump and the White House are trying to achieve this week, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports.

Randy emailed: I have three questions for you to consider posing to Senator Martin: Senator Martin cited the fact that some counties that met the state metric for moving to yellow were not included in the governor’s list as one of the reasons for his action.  That is certainly true for York County, but Lancaster County is currently nowhere near that metric – as of yesterday, Lancaster’s rate of new cases 118 versus the metric of 50 – over twice the level.  Why should Lancaster be an exception to the rule? Second, One of the things all experts – and many of the letter’s signatories – say that we should have in place is Contact Tracing and Testing.  Lancaster City has such an initiative.  Is Contact Tracing being done elsewhere in the county?  If so, where, and who is running those teams?  Third, I understand the frustration and anger the senator feels about the way the governor has made exceptions and other areas – but how is reducing restrictions a solution to this?  Or is it just a threat to make the governor pay attention to the other things?

John emailed: Rather than making this a partisan civil war in PA why is the Senator not focusing on the specific businesses of concern and the big issue of population testing rather than the wholesale condemnation of the administration?

Nathan emailed: What exact metrics are they following in making this decision, specific metrics, not simply “well, it is mostly in nursing homes”, but specifically what is the detailed plan to support this? How do they plan to test, track, and monitor this moving forward? who are the experts, by name, in the medical or epidemiology fields, that support this? Also, as someone who is out here working, where almost no one is actually wearing a mask, how do they plan to enforce these measures they say are working so well? Also, explain how this is not simply  bigger business grab to make sure they can keep lining their pockets while putting their employees at risk, and irresponsibly so?

Dale emailed: It is important that people in Lancaster County do not all support this action, ‘review’ the editorial from today’s paper.

Peter emailed: How do you square the Republican Party’s purported respect for the rule of law with your defiance of a legally constituted order from the state’s chief executive? Also ask, were there no remedies available through the courts?

Melinda called to comment: I would like to know how many medical professionals were consulted in this move to open up?

Dale emailed: Specifically which medical professionals did the Republican officials consult with before sending their letter to the Governor?  Is the decision science based or just their gut?

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