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GOP continues attacks on Wolf ahead of Friday reopening announcement

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Republicans continued their assault on Gov. Tom Wolf's closure orders Thursday, a day ahead of when Wolf said he will announce the phased reopening of more Pennsylvania counties.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, during a roundtable discussion laid into the Wolf administration's handling of the coronavirus crisis, particularly its response to outbreaks in nursing homes, where many of the state's virus-related deaths have occurred.

In general, businesses are capable of reopening safely in counties that remain closed, such as York and Lancaster, they said. The Wolf administration should instead narrow its focus to nursing homes instead of keeping entire regions shuttered, Smucker said. 

“That essential reason for the shutdown no longer exists," Toomey said, referring to the fear of hospitals being overwhelmed. "And we have to recognize that every day we deny people to earn a livelihood, there’s a huge cost we’re paying.”

Although Wolf confirmed he will make an announcement about more counties entering the yellow phase on Friday, he would not say what counties would be included.

The past two Fridays, Wolf has announced the phased reopening of some counties that met his administration's standards. On May 1, Wolf announced that 24 counties would shift to the yellow phase after seven days.

On May 8, he made a similar announcement for 13 additional counties. 

Sen. Tom Toomey (R-PA) discusses the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act at the York County Administrative Building in York City, Thursday, March 21, 2019. The bipartisan legislation would hold fentanyl-producing nations accountable for their compliance with United States fentanyl-related drug enforcement. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The most recent openings set off a firestorm in counties that were to remain closed.

Earlier this week, in one of several news conferences that resembled political rallies, state lawmakers representing York and Adams counties demanded Wolf open up their economies to relieve the economic devastation brought by the coronavirus closures.

Several counties considered defying Wolf's order and opening anyway, a move that led Wolf to call county leaders' actions "cowardly," further infuriating Republicans.

But Wolf's threat Monday that he would pull state aid from those that went through with it walked most local officials back. Lebanon and Lancaster counties still intended to openly defy Wolf's order, reported The Associated Press on Thursday. 

State House Republicans continued Thursday pushing legislation that would force Wolf to reopen most of the state’s economy. Earlier attempts, however, have been killed by Wolf’s veto pen.

It wasn't until this week that lawmakers in Congress began to be more vocal with their calls.

Earlier this week, Smucker joined seven Republican House members representing Pennsylvania and signed a letter attacking Wolf for calling county leaders who would defy his orders "cowards."

"The Governor’s rhetoric is irresponsible and continues to put miles of distance between Pennsylvania and a solution," the letter read. "He needs a reality check and more sensitivity to the hardships that families across the Commonwealth are experiencing as a result of his continued shutdown. Enough is enough."

Wolf's upcoming announcement will come as the coronavirus' disproportionate effect on nursing homes and long-term care facilities has become the most recent addition to the GOP’s arsenal.

It wasn't until this week that Wolf said the state would begin widespread testing of those in nursing homes.

'We have learned in recent days the Wolf admin has unquestionably failed in their leadership," Smucker said Thursday.

Smucker was referring to a report by Spotlight PA that detailed how Wolf's administration abandoned an early plan to protect nursing homes that entailed "quick strike teams" to mitigate outbreaks in the facilities.

Members of the General Assembly from York and Adams counties hold a rally at Gene Latta Ford in Hanover to discuss the need to reopen the local economy by allowing people to safely and responsibly return to work. 
Tuesday, May 12, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Just the day before, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry sent a letter to Wolf, writing, "The (Health) Department’s lackluster response raises significant questions and concerns about the breathtaking failure of your ability to protect the most vulnerable."

In terms of numbers, the Republicans' claims have merit. Statewide, the impact on nursing homes and long-term care facilities is indisputable.

Roughly 69% of the state's 4,218 deaths linked to the virus have been in those facilities.

However, confirmed cases among residents and employees at 549 nursing homes and long-term care facilities only account for 24% of the state's 59,636 cases.

Just three of York County's 15 deaths linked to COVID-19 occurred in nursing homes, according to state data. And  less than 2% of York County's 793 confirmed cases of the coronavirus were in  nursing homes or long-term care facilities. 

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