We Asked, You Answered: In Hindsight, Did the Wolf Administration Go Too Far With Closures During the Pandemic?

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf adjusts his face mask to protect against COVID-19 during a news conference in Harrisburg in November 2020. (AP File Photo/Julio Cortez)

By Patrick Berkery

September 28, 2023

In a recent edition of the Keystone newsletter, we asked readers for their thoughts on former Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to close schools and businesses during the pandemic. Many still feel he did the right thing.

COVID-19 is back in our lives. That’s because cases are on the rise, along with hospitalizations, and deaths.

Quick reality check: Deaths aren’t remotely near the levels they were during the height of the pandemic in late 2020/early 2021, when the daily average of COVID-related deaths in Pennsylvania routinely eclipsed 200. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Sept. 21, the number of COVID-related deaths in the state over the last month was 323.

On Sept. 11, the Food and Drug Administration approved an updated COVID vaccine, which the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is recommending for everyone six months and older to help bolster waning immunity as we head into the fall and winter.

With the uptick in cases and a new vaccine rollout, some Republican lawmakers began sounding lockdown alarms. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters that people are “lurching toward” COVID-related restrictions and “there needs to be pushback.”

Another quick reality check: No one is talking about lockdowns. In fact, here in Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office released a statement earlier this month that said “the administration’s view is that there is no need to impose restrictions” regarding the uptick in COVID cases.

This is consistent with the opposition to COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as mask and vaccine mandates, that Shapiro voiced when he was campaigning for office last year. Shapiro said at the time, “This is an area where I think folks got it wrong,” referring to the school and business shutdowns ordered by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

In light of the recent resurgence of COVID, we posed the following question of the week in a recent edition of our newsletter: In hindsight, do you think the Wolf administration went too far with business and school closures during the pandemic?

Here’s what Pennsylvanians had to say about it (some responses have been edited for length and clarity):

“He absolutely did the safe and prudent thing. We’ll never know what (other) crisis could have been triggered if these measures had not been widely implemented. Those that adopted safe practices and later got vaccinated brought this pandemic under control on behalf of the people who put personal liberty above community welfare. By the way, I witnessed my kids and most others don their masks without complaint, as long as the adults in their sphere complied.”

-Lisa DiGlacomo, West Chester

“I believe that our governor did the absolute best he could to protect the citizens of our commonwealth. My apartment is in a 62+ age community so we were all in lockdown for a very long time. It was comforting to know that he was evaluating the situation county by county. Yes, it wasn’t easy, but I feel like the community came together for the most part. I applaud Gov. Wolf for doing his best.”

-Claudia Trusel, Slippery Rock

“To your question about whether Gov. Wolf’s administration got it wrong with his handling of COVID-19, yes, I think they did. Common sense alone said there wasn’t much epidemiological benefit of closing “non-essential” businesses while letting “essential” businesses stay open. The only benefit of doing that per public health was to “slow the spread”. But I don’t recall there were ever any measurable benefits provided by doing that. When you consider the socio-economic costs of locking down so many small businesses, I think in the end, the costs far outweighed any hard to measure, and I’d say, questionable benefits.”

-Marty Howe, Havertown

“I think Wolf did the best he could, given the information he had at the time.”

-Helijena McKenney, Feasterville

“I think the Wolf administration made their decisions based on the information they had at the time, with a focus on keeping people safe, especially vulnerable people, and trying to minimize the strain on the healthcare system. There’s always a lot of second guessing after the fact.”

-Susan Ingham, Huntingdon

“At the time, in all the confusion of how the virus was spread, with people refusing to get vaccinated, it was the right thing to do. The bottom line though is/was money. Though there was government help for businesses and people in general that were adversely affected by the shutdowns AND the long lasting effects of the virus itself, not everyone was helped and maybe the help didn’t last long enough.”

-Stephanie Sewell, suburban Pittsburgh

“Absolutely. Our young students are now far behind in their studies and many have become jaded and feel lost. They will never recover the time lost in the classroom. Many businesses have either given up or are still trying to recoup the losses from closings.”

-Lynne Tharan, New Bethlehem

“As someone who had two older parents, both of whom had very compromised immune systems, I was extremely concerned for their safety and well-being. It brought me a bit of relief to know they were not being exposed. Looking back now, we have more information and we can change our opinions or thoughts about that time in our lives. I still think it was smart to keep us all away from each other.”

-Duke Slifko, Greensburg

“Wolf went way overboard on school lockdowns. The lockdowns ruined student learning in crisis prevention intervention, which requires hands-on learning. It is very hard to cut hair or fix a car online. I felt so sorry for those students.”

-Diane Gates, Centre County

I believe the Covid lockdown saved many lives. Precautions during a pandemic are necessary.”

-Patricia O’Donnell, NP, Taylor

“I don’t think Wolf was wrong. Had (people) been more willing to follow the guidelines to stop the spread rather than denying COVID’s existence and severity, things could have been different without extreme measures.”

-Joyce K.

“The Wolf administration Covid orders and closures were entirely appropriate and probably saved a large number of lives.”

-R.S., Pittsburgh

“I think not. Before vaccines were around, I have to believe it saved lives. It was at great personal cost to so many people but you shouldn’t blame him.”

-Kathy Oxenreiter, Bell Township

“He did the right thing, erring on the side of caution. He didn’t have a whole lot of precedent to base his COVID policy upon.”

-Robert Gruetzmacher, Kennett Square

“The COVID epidemic was of a magnitude modern society had not experienced. I give credit to everyone who had to make decisions, right or wrong, they thought would protect the health of millions of people. I personally would not have wanted that burden. We need to learn from that, do better next time, and show some grace.”

-Betsy, Manheim

“Perhaps some of the closures may not have not been necessary. But in the interest of protecting the public from a deadly pandemic, difficult decisions had to be made. I believe most Americans who had businesses and who worked were compensated, and that was helpful. I don’t think it would have been fair to expect parents and school staff to subject their kids or themselves to the potentially deadly virus when we were in the thick of it. Many people died and so I think extra precautions were necessary.”

-Patrice Bonilla-Sexton, McKees Rocks

“I think at the time Gov. Wolf made the right decision. I personally know of five friends and acquaintances who died of COVID, and most of them made bad choices. I don’t think they ever considered their decisions’ impact on the safety of others.”

-Shawn Albright, Quarryville

“As an RN during Covid, it is easy for some, especially business owners to say he got it wrong. However, better a fiscal death than death itself. With medical knowledge evolving daily, the lack of people willing to get vaccinated (and for a time, no vaccine), it was necessary to prevent more deaths.”

-S.Cartwright, BSN, Lancaster


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