Newberry Twp. official: State 'choosing winners' with COVID-19 protocol

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

A Newberry Township supervisor took issue last week with Gov. Tom Wolf's COVID-19 mitigation efforts surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday, and what he saw as the government "picking and choosing winners."

Newberry Township Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Alsted forwarded an email to several township officials on Thanksgiving Day regarding the governor's use of the cellphone emergency alert system for COVID-19 messages.

Supervisor Clair Wintermyer replied and said it was difficult to take the governor's virus mitigation efforts seriously when they appeared, to him, to be unevenly applied.

"I can't go to the movies today, I can't go bowling today, I can't travel to see family today, I can't have people over for thanksgiving, and the bars had to stop serving alcohol at 530pm (sic) yesterday," Wintermyer said in the email.

The Newberry Township Municipal complex Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

The governor and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine prohibited the sale of alcohol for on-site consumption in bars, restaurants, wineries, breweries, private clubs and catered events between 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25, and 8.a.m. Thursday, Nov. 26.

Wolf and Levine said this was to prevent the spread of the virus by limiting the congregation of people during what is traditionally a busy night for bars and restaurants, much to the frustration of bar and restaurant owners who have struggled to make ends meet under state-mandated operational restrictions.

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The governor also implored Pennsylvania residents not to host Thanksgiving gatherings with people from outside their immediate households and required travelers from out of state to either obtain a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 14 days after arrival.

Wintermyer said that despite these restrictions on citizens, casinos were open on Thanksgiving Day for people to gather inside to gamble and drink alcohol, and that somehow the virus "isn't a big deal" if you're inside a casino.

In response, Alsted said there were "obviously mixed opinions" about how the state and federal government have responded to the pandemic.

"It's important we don't lose focus on how serious the virus really is just because you might not agree with the politics or strategies used to control it," Alsted said in his reply.

On Tuesday, the state announced eight new COVID-19 deaths in York County, breaking the previous record set in April. 

In a statement Monday, Wolf's spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger took issue with Wintermyer's characterization that the governor's response has been inconsistent.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to media at York Grace Brethren Church in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Bars, restaurants and casinos all had the exact same measures in place on Thanksgiving eve as well as Thanksgiving," she stated. "All facilities could remain open but could not serve alcohol for on-site consumption from 5 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2020 to 8 a.m. on Nov. 26, 2020."

In a phone interview, Kensinger said that if bar owners did close their doors that night, it was their own choice to do so.

York County had 677 new COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, making a total 12,388 positive cases since the pandemic began, according to the state Department of Health.

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