(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania will lift some pandemic restrictions in a dozen more counties next week as demonstrators gathered on the Capitol steps Friday to protest the ongoing lockdown.
“Through our social distancing efforts, we have not only reversed a trajectory of exponential new case growth – we have cut it in half,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “And some of the counties that will be shifting into the yellow phase next week eliminated concerns that we had just two weeks ago.”
Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne, and York counties will move from the most restrictive red phase of the governor’s reopening plan to the more cautionary yellow stage. In the yellow phase, many businesses can reopen with social distancing in place, including daycares, but public schools, entertainment venues, gyms, movie theaters, salons and spas will stay closed.
Dauphin County, where the state capitol building is located in Harrisburg, remains in red as cases of COVID-19 continue rising, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Friday. More than 60,000 cases of the virus have been confirmed across the state since March 6 and more than 4,300 have died, so far.
Despite the climbing numbers, Wolf and Levine said counties in yellow – 33 as of Friday – have succeeded, so far, in efforts to test and contact trace new cases, keeping any potential outbreaks at bay. He said frustrated local officials and those protesting against the restrictions at the Capitol have a right to their anger, though he believes it's misdirected.
“It’s a realistic and reasonable expression of frustration. Our problem is that the frustration has to be subjected toward the virus,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep people safe.”
“Had we allowed what happened in Italy to happen here, that would have been worse for the economy,” he added. “More people sick and more people dead. The way we did it here I think was less bad than it could have been.”
Wolf maintains his aggressive mitigation strategy helped flatten Pennsylvania’s curve as infections in surrounding states raged. Still, Republicans at the state, federal and executive level accused the governor of going “too slowly” on reopening, unnecessarily plunging nearly 1.8 million residents into unemployment.
"We've got to get your governor in Pennsylvania to start to open up here," President Donald Trump said during a visit to a medical supply distribution facility in Allentown on Thursday. "You have areas in Pennsylvania that are barely affected and they want to keep them closed. You can't do that."
The president’s frustration echoes that of Republicans in the state Legislature, including Butler County Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who said Friday he will introduce an impeachment resolution for the governor over his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
“His focus on restraining business is particularly disturbing, as the majority of deaths due to the pandemic have been residents of long-term care facilities,” he said. “The governor should have focused his attention there, but he has entirely failed to implement a comprehensive state plan to protect our most vulnerable citizens who reside in nursing homes, which have had inadequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment and testing kits throughout the outbreak.”
Others have been less critical, though still “disappointed” by Wolf’s unwillingness to sign bills that would put tens of thousands of workers – from real estate agents to animal groomers to hair stylists – back on the job, ahead of his phased schedule.
Wolf, for his part, seems unfazed by the impeachment calls.
“I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t wait to see the legal arguments that might be put forward in that case,” he said.