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How a plan to stay open led to conflict at one Northumberland Co. business

Plus: A look at how counties are forging ahead with reopening efforts

  • Ed Mahon/Spotlight PA
Scott Hoffman sits on his porch in Sunbury, Northumberland County, on April 29, 2020.

Ed Mahon / PA

Scott Hoffman sits on his porch in Sunbury, Northumberland County, on April 29, 2020.

Over the past few weeks I’ve read many stories about manufacturers deciding to switch gears and make masks or other types of personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a way to keep the doors open and, more importantly, do some good. But at one Northumberland County business that simple idea didn’t prove simple at all. More details below. —Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter

Ed Mahon / PA

Scott Hoffman sits on his porch in Sunbury, Northumberland County, on April 29, 2020. (Ed Mahon / PA Post)

Scott Hoffman, 57, first started working at All Sports America in the summer of 1998, cleaning jerseys and equipment. At the time, his car was broken down and he often rode his bike to work. Hoffman landed a full-time position the following January and was promoted to production manager within a few years. He said he hoped to work at the sports uniform manufacturer and distributor until he retired.

But he walked off the job on April 16, two weeks after the company received a special waiver from the state to stay open. Instead of sports apparel, the company would convert its production line to making masks.

“I am not quitting,” Hoffman recalled saying that day. “But I’m going to leave the building if you proceed with this, because I will not be a part of putting everyone’s life in jeopardy.”

The next day, three other workers also left.

I took a deep look at the dispute and its lasting impact for everyone involved in this story.

I spoke with the company’s majority owner and president, Richard Rock, who saw the change to masks as a way to avoid bankruptcy. He told me he takes the coronavirus threat seriously. He said his wife has a compromised immune system, and that they bought $900 worth of groceries — three carts full — in February to make sure they could practice as much social distancing as possible.

“If I get it, she’s gonna get it, and … she has so many health issues that it would be crazy,” Rock told me.

I expect the issue of workplace safety will be an ongoing concern as more and more businesses reopen. Some examples in recent stories:

If you are an employee with a safety concern, or if you are an owner struggling to keep your business staffed, we want to hear from you. Please drop us a line at the Listening Post.

Best of the rest

A customer exits Fischer Hardware in Beaver, Pa., Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Beaver County Commissioners have said they disagree with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the county will act as if they are transitioning to the "yellow" phase on May 15. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced, May 8, that 13 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, not including Beaver County, that would remain in the "red" phase where the stay-at-home order is still in effect, would move to the "yellow" phase on May 15.

Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo

A customer exits Fischer Hardware in Beaver, Pa., Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Beaver County Commissioners have said they disagree with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the county will act as if they are transitioning to the “yellow” phase on May 15. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced, May 8, that 13 southwestern Pennsylvania counties, not including Beaver County, that would remain in the “red” phase where the stay-at-home order is still in effect, would move to the “yellow” phase on May 15. (Gene J. Puskar / AP Photo)

  • What it means to go from red to yellow on your own: There’s a lot of talk about counties declaring that they are beginning to lift coronavirus restrictions with or without the Gov. Tom Wolf’s support. The case of Beaver County shows how that could actually work. Republican Commissioner Daniel Camp III said he and his fellow commissioners didn’t pass a resolution or order saying businesses can reopen. Instead, they are trying to spread the word that their independently elected district attorney doesn’t plan to prosecute businesses that violate the governor’s shutdown order. Camp is telling businesses to act as if they are in yellow — but not go further than that by, say, offering dine-in services at a bar or restaurant. Beaver’s model: County commissioners use their bully pulpit, and district attorneys use prosecutorial discretion, to signal to employers that they can reopen. Here’s my rundown of how leaders in York, Berks and elsewhere are pursuing their reopening plans, and a related Spotlight PA story: Counties abandon plans to buck Wolf, as GOP lawmakers continue pushing doomed reopening bills.

  • Lancaster’s plan: PA Post reporting intern Ben Pontz took a deep look at the debate in Lancaster County and its plan to reopen on Friday, ahead of Wolf’s timeline. Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, described a planned $24 million contract tracing program. But he declined to say whether he thought the county was ready to move to yellow. And not all municipalities in the county on onboard, as LNP reports: At least five municipalities are pushing back against Lancaster County’s GOP-led move to defy Gov. Wolf.

  • Will other district attorneys refuse to prosecute? That’s what more than two dozen House Republican lawmakers are hoping, WESA’s Lucy Perkins reports. She also spoke with epidemiologist David Dausey of Duquesne University who said reopening brings big risks to businesses.

  • Few citations: So far, state police have issued few citations for people or businesses that violate the governor’s shutdown or safety orders. And state police say the agency isn’t planning to crackdown on counties where district attorneys won’t prosecute, WESA’s An-Li Herring reports.

  • What does it actually take to go from red to yellow? The Philadelphia Inquirer’Jonathan Lai broke it down in this handy explainer, which includes an interactive map of counties that are below one of the Wolf administration’s criteria. They’ve had fewer than 50 new reported cases per 100,000 people over 14 days. (York, Adams, Perry, Mifflin, Juniata in south-central Pa. are below that mark.) See also this story from the Post-GazetteHow will life be different under Gov. Wolf’s yellow phase?

  • Up north: New York State has this interactive dashboard that breaks down the metrics for regions to reopen there. It provides a lot more detail than what Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has made public for how the state makes reopening decisions.

President Trump in Pa. today:

Further reading:


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