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Wolf lays out consequences for 'cowardly' politicians bucking stay-at-home orders

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday threatened to cut off discretionary funding to counties that defy his stay-at-home and business closure orders, taking an unusually stern tone as Republicans' frustration with the shutdown intensified.

Wolf's remarks came after officials in several counties over the weekend said they will defy Wolf's orders and reopen their respective economies. Meanwhile, York County officials pleaded with the governor to move into the yellow phase of recovery.

"To those politicians who decide to cave in to this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act," Wolf said.

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Just an hour before Wolf's comments, President Donald Trump tweeted that "the great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now" and urged the state to move quickly.

Trump's tweet built on calls from Republicans nationwide for their governors to reopen economies that have been hamstrung by efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

That included a protest that brought thousands of Pennsylvanians to the state Capitol last month despite the fact that polling shows a majority of Pennsylvanians support Wolf's measures.

Over the weekend, frustrations boiled over, particularly among GOP officials whose counties were not freed Friday from the most severe limitations on businesses.

GOP lawmakers and county commissioners representing Dauphin and Lebanon counties called for their respective areas to openly defy the governor's orders and enter the yellow phase, which includes the limited reopening of most businesses.

In York County, some restaurants, such as Round the Clock Diner, opened their dining rooms, defying Wolf's orders.

Ten York County lawmakers on Friday, though not explicitly calling for residents to defy the governor's orders, penned their own letter calling on Wolf to reopen businesses in the county.

Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, went as far as to call for the resignation of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

In a statement from the Democratic Party of York County, the organization accused Republicans of simply trying to build up their public profiles and "are welcoming you to the beach just before the shark attack begins."

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf speaks during a meeting with The York Dispatch editorial staff at the Dispatch offices Friday, October 19, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

York County commissioners did not indicate during a Monday news conference that they would defy any orders from Wolf, instead making a direct plea for Wolf to move the county into the yellow phase.

"Based on our data, existing mitigation plans and go-forward strategy, York County is prepared and ready to move into the yellow phase,” said President Commissioner Julie Wheeler.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich earlier Monday also called for the county to be moved into the yellow phase.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday has said his office will not prosecute businesses for violating Wolf's order and instructed local law enforcement agencies to ease off enforcement. But businesses could face other repercussions, such as the loss of state licenses and issues with insurance, state officials said.

York City will continue enforcing Wolf's orders because it does so through civil and administrative penalties, rendering Sunday's comments directed at law enforcement "moot," Helfrich said.

Wolf warned that counties that reopen will not receive discretionary relief funding such as money supplied by the federal CARES act.

He also said businesses that reopen risk losing their liquor licenses and certificates of occupancy, something the Pennsylvania State Police will continue to enforce.

"The fight is not over yet," he said. "Now is not the time to give up."

So far, 24 counties in the state's northwest and north-central regions have transitioned out of the weightiest limitations on businesses and activity by entering the yellow phase.

Wolf last week added 13 counties in the state's southwest region to the list, slating them to enter the yellow designation beginning May 15. 

The south-central region, which includes York County, remains shuttered. It is unknown when it will see the same economic relief.

In determining which regions will reopen, the state takes into account population density, testing data, contact tracing and hospital resources.

To meet the benchmark for reopening, all counties in regions delineated by the state also must have fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.

York County has met that benchmark, but it is unclear whether other counties in the region have as well.

As of Monday at noon, there were 784 confirmed COVID-19 cases in York County, with 13 deaths linked to the virus.

Statewide, there were 57,154 cases and 3,731 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.