Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania

A person wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus walks past a shuttered business in Philadelphia, Thursday, May 7, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Federal data shows pandemic restrictions forced three in 10 businesses statewide to close, at least temporarily, ranking Pennsylvania second only to Michigan in terms of economic lockdown impacts. 

Still, the number of businesses that received federal aid in Pennsylvania for complying with these closures didn’t even crack the top 20, leaving many employees seeking jobless benefits in a system too crowded to handle the influx of workers – more than 1.2 million in March and April alone – witnessed at the onset of the pandemic. 

Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, blamed one person alone for the state’s lagging economy – Gov. Tom Wolf.

“The statistics clearly show the Wolf Administration forced too many businesses to close, kept those businesses closed for far too long, and did not do enough to help the business owners and employees who were deeply affected by the Administration’s unilateral orders,” she said. “We all recognize that certain precautions must be taken during a pandemic, but Governor Wolf’s mismanagement of the response to this crisis over the past several months is a big reason why many Pennsylvanians have zero faith in the decisions he is making now.”

Those decisions – including a three-week ban on indoor dining and drinking, youth sports and extracurricular activities and gatherings of more than 10 people – came last week as COVID-19 hospitalizations eclipsed 5,500. That number exceeded 6,000 as of Tuesday as Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said more than half of the state’s 509,000 cases have only been diagnosed within the last six weeks.

“The situation is dire,” Wolf said Thursday. “It’s worse than it was in the spring [when] we had to flatten the curve.” 

He said the latest measures, set to expire Jan. 4, 2021, will help accomplish three goals: slowing the virus’s spread, prevent case loads from overwhelming hospitals and ensure residents survive the holiday season as “we move closer to a widely available vaccine - as safely as possible.”  

“It’s not the government that’s doing this,” he said last week. “It’s not me. It’s dictated by the virus.”

Levine said Monday the continued restrictions on restaurants and bars – decimated by nine months of pandemic regulations – are based on science, a notion that many Republican legislators and industry representatives refute. 

“It’s been very clearly shown for months and months how restaurants and bars can share in significant spread of COVID-19,” she said. “You cannot eat or drink with a mask on. Depending on the ventilation system, it’s very easy to spread.” 

“We are not trying to target that industry,” she added.

Bartolotta said the administration’s unwillingness to collaborate with lawmakers about economic restrictions means many businesses stayed closed “much longer than necessary." Even now, as the unemployment rate lags the national average, businesses still can't recover from the unilateral shutdowns of last spring.

“And the businesses that were strong enough to survive the early months of the pandemic now face even greater threats of bankruptcy and financial ruin because of his new shutdowns,” she said. “We have long said that we can protect lives and livelihoods, and these goals do not need to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the governor’s go-it-alone, one-size-fits-all approach has protected neither lives nor livelihoods.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.