Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus have garnered attention from White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx.
Nearly six months after he first signed a disaster declaration to help better address the needs of Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf renewed that declaration for a second time on Aug. 31.
The new 90-day disaster declaration comes just two months after the GOP-majority state legislature passed a resolution to end the governor’s coronavirus emergency declaration orders, which shuttered businesses — except those considered “life-sustaining” — and imposed other restrictions for the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus recently garnered attention from White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who visited the state earlier this month. “I never give anyone an A, but I think they’re close to a B-plus, A-minus range — a really terrific job,” she said. Birx is a native of the Keystone State.
Republicans in the General Assembly, however, have opposed many of the measures the Wolf administration has taken to address the public health crisis. That includes trying to end the governor’s original declaration, signed on March 6, by passing House Resolution 836 this summer. Wolf vetoed the resolution, and his veto was upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Upon their return to voting session earlier this month, House Republicans tried to overturn that veto once again, but failed.
THE LATEST: Federal judge declares coronavirus restrictions unconstitutional, disaster declaration stands
Here’s what you need to know about the latest in the GOP’s ongoing fight to limit Wolf’s emergency powers.
Why did Wolf renew the declaration?
Although the state has mostly flattened the curve, the coronavirus crisis is still very much here.
In recent weeks, state health officials have noted a small uptick in COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, the state documented an additional 587 new positive cases in the state, bringing the total number of sickened Pennsylvanians to more than 141,000. The Department of Health also stated that there has been “significant increases” in the number of cases among people between the ages of 19 and 24.
Wolf said in a statement he was “amazed at the resiliency and strength shown by Pennsylvanians” during the coronavirus crisis. “We are going to continue to combat the health and economic effects of COVID-19, and the renewal of my disaster declaration will provide us with resources and support needed for this effort.”
What does the emergency declaration do?
Among other things, the emergency disaster declaration gives extra support to state agencies involved in the continued response to the virus. It also provides some financial relief to Pennsylvanians and their businesses during the pandemic by waiving waiting periods and job search requirements to receive unemployment. This is crucial for many who are out of work due to the faltering economy.
Why did Republicans try to overturn Gov. Wolf’s veto of HR 836?
GOP lawmakers believe Wolf’s orders have been disastrous for Pennsylvania businesses and families, and that limiting his emergency powers and ending the declaration will fully reopen the economy. The Wolf administration, however, argues that the declaration has no bearing on restrictions, and that ending it will do more harm than good.
Rep. Jerry Knowles of Schuylkill County said the emergency “needs to come to an end” because it is wiping out the bar and restaurant business. (Earlier this week, Gov. Wolf announced he was relaxing restrictions on indoor dining, while a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults with COVID-19 were “twice as likely” to have said they dined inside a restaurant.)
State Rep. Megan Schroeder and Rep. Todd Polinchock—both serving parts of Bucks County—offered the same statement in their respective newsletters regarding their efforts to override the veto of HR 836: “We must take COVID-19 seriously and take steps to protect ourselves, but we must also learn to live with this virus,” they wrote. “The governor’s orders may have been appropriate to flatten the curve six months ago, but the time for his unilateral decision-making has passed. Instead, we should be working to move forward together to keep our citizens safe while getting them back to work, back to school and back to a normal life. The cost of standing still is too high.
The House needed a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto. To get there, at least 25 Democratic members of the House along with that of the entire Republican Caucus would need to vote in favor of overturning the veto. Only nine Democrats supported the measure.
Have the coronavirus restrictions made a difference?
Researchers say the shutdowns instituted by states across the country early in the pandemic deterred millions of infections and saved thousands of lives. In Philly alone, Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative estimates 6,200 deaths were avoided in the first 45 days of the city’s lockdown.
The most severe restrictions in the state have since been lifted, though officials continue to limit how many people can frequent certain businesses, including restaurants and bars.“Despite the Republicans’ assertions, COVID-19 still exists, and we need to remain vigilant,” said Nate Wardle, a spokesperson for the Department of Health. “The Republican legislature continues to pretend that we are not in the middle of a public health crisis. They need to start taking this seriously and help people who need it most, not take votes for political theatre.”