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GOP officials from York, Adams counties fire back at Wolf

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Republican state lawmakers from York and Adams counties on Tuesday fought back against Gov. Tom Wolf, demanding that he bring those counties into the yellow phase in a mix of fiery remarks.

The news conference at Gene Latta Ford in Hanover came a day after Wolf adopted an unusually aggressive tone, dubbing Republican officials pushing to reopen counties in defiance of Wolf's stay-at-home order "cowards."

And despite taking issue with Wolf's name-calling, Republicans themselves didn't hold back their criticism of the Democratic governor on Tuesday.

"People are fed up with (Wolf's) lackluster leadership and the void in keeping our government officials informed and up to date," said Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township.

Saylor went on to demand Wolf apologize for his Monday remarks.

In addition, he criticized Wolf for lacking transparency by holding virtual news conferences. Saylor went as far as praising New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for his handling of the media throughout the coronavirus crisis.

More:Tuesday update: One new COVID-19 death reported in York County

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

Rep. Seth Grove makes a fired-up response to Governor Wolf calling local officials cowards as 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

Tuesday's news conference resembled a political rally, with a total attendance hovering around 75 people.

Ten lawmakers attended, eight of whom represent at least parts of York County. They were joined by a number of local officials and business leaders.

More than 40 people formed a crowd in addition to those officials, many wearing apparel supporting President Donald Trump. Trump has criticized Wolf's handling of the coronavirus and is slated to visit Allentown on Thursday.

Nearly all of the lawmakers wore masks and stood 6 feet apart under the recommendation of health experts, with the exception of Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams.

But with the remaining crowd limited to a small portion of the lot, journalists and onlookers were packed tightly together. Many in attendance were not wearing masks. 

Supporters listen as 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

When asked whether the setup was safe, Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, called the continued warnings about potential spikes of infection in the general public "fear mongering."

"Anybody going to get COVID being outside with masks on? Some people don't have masks on? No, that's not going to happen," Grove said.

Grove instead insisted the real issue is within nursing homes and long-term care facilities overseeing vulnerable individuals — facilities that he said the government has failed. 

The assertion came a day after York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said that one reason the county is ready to begin reopening is that infections at nursing homes and long-term care facilities have remained low.

Grove is correct when looking at state numbers. Roughly 69% of the state's 3,806 deaths linked to the virus as of Tuesday at noon were in those facilities.

However, confirmed cases among residents and employees at 540 nursing homes and long-term care facilities only account for 24% of the state's 57,991 cases.

Just two of York County's 14 deaths linked to COVID-19 occurred in a nursing home, according to state data. And 2% of York County's 793 confirmed cases of the coronavirus were in a nursing home or long-term care facility. 

Regardless, speakers on Tuesday still made their demands very clear: Wolf needs to move the south-central region into the yellow phase, which would lift the stay-at-home order and allow most shuttered businesses to reopen.

So far, 24 counties in the state's northwest and north-central regions have made the move. Thirteen counties in the southwest region will do so beginning Friday.

Despite letters and public calls from York County Republicans to open up York and surrounding counties, the region's timeline remains unknown.

Earlier Tuesday, Wolf said decisions about reopening are dependent on a suite of metrics, not simply the 50 cases per 100,000 residents threshold that's most often cited.

"But in an effort to keep people safe, including in places like York County, we are looking at a whole range of data," Wolf said. "And at this point, we’ve opened more than half of the counties in Pennsylvania, and York County has not been one of those and that’s because we don’t think they are (ready) yet."

Lawmakers at Tuesday's event in Hanover, however, said the governor is ignoring them and going it alone.

"If the governor continues to ignore our letters, we know what we need to do," said Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township.

While not explicitly calling for counties to defy Wolf's orders, such as what occurred in Dauphin and Lebanon Counties over the weekend, Phillips-Hill said lawmakers would continue to push legislation to improve transparency and reopen the economy.

But as far as bills to reopen the economy are concerned, Wolf's veto pen has proved insurmountable.

Wolf vetoed legislation last month that would have forced his administration to create a mitigation plan and permitted most businesses to reopen so long as they complied with certain guidelines. 

The Senate also is expected to soon send a bill to Wolf's desk that would put mitigation plans in the counties' hands, something that the governor has also vowed to veto.

— Reporter Ron Musselman contributed to this story. 

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