It is pretty outrageous and reckless that state legislators voted on a concurrent resolution to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration put out by Governor Tom Wolf. While the Republicans led the effort, most Democrats in the Senate along with several Democrats in the House joined them to make this a bipartisan bill. My opponent, current state representative Anita Kulik, was one of the Yes votes, as was my state senator Wayne Fontana.
According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the governor has the authority to declare an emergency and exercise special authority and powers, which is what Wolf was using to regulate business and order a lock-down. The Constitution also states that the state legislature may at any time revoke the emergency by passing a concurrent resolution bill, which does not require the governor’s signature since it is a resolution and not a typical bill (that is, it’s just a statement, it doesn’t become law, so the governor has nothing to veto).
There’s two huge problems with this resolution: its effect on public health, and its effect on workers and families.
First, public health. COVID-19 is far from over, more people are infected and hospitalized every day. Over 110,000 people nationwide have already died in the span of a few months, and that was with emergency lock-down orders in effect (meaning it would have been much worse without lock-down). It is absolutely still an emergency and a crisis. In fact, states that opened up earlier than Pennsylvania – and had less lock-down restrictions to begin with – are already seeing huge surges in infection and hospitalization rates. Texas for example saw a record number of hospitalizations this week. I’m very concerned that it may already be too late to effectively stop the spread in those states, meaning we can expect many more infections and deaths over coming weeks. That will be Pennsylvania’s future soon if we don’t maintain action now. Those deaths will accelerate if hospitals because crowded and overwhelmed; this was actually one of the biggest reasons for the lock-down, to ensure hospitals could keep reasonable capacity and treat everyone that needed it.
So what does the resolution have to do with this? Well, for one thing, it sends the wrong message to the public that the crisis is “over”. Also, the emergency declaration allows greater regulations – and resources – to flow into hospitals and the Department of Health in order to address these issues. Those resources will dry up. And honestly, they already weren’t getting the resources they needed. Reports of personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and gowns is common; state officials should have been purchasing PPE and spreading out long ago, and without an emergency declaration, that’s even less likely to happen now. Medical professionals will die, particularly if we see another surge or second wave, and they didn’t have to if officials were making the preparations necessary.
Healthcare professionals are in the middle of a war for our health, and the lack of real support from state and federal officials – along with post-traumatic-stress-like symptoms – is already making many plan to leave medicine for good once the crisis is passed.
And so the second problem: the effect on workers and families. A lot of special state and federal programs exist to try to help families through this crisis, but many of them only apply during a state of emergency. What this means is that officials voting for the resolution may have caused local communities across Pennsylvania to suddenly lose access to state and federal funding for COVID-19 relief programs. Many essential jobs are in grocery stores and other services critical to feeding and taking care of people. Teens are having to make the difficult decision of putting themselves and families at risk in order to make extra money to help family that may be out of work. A housing crisis may be looming, as the Governor’s executive order protections that prevented evictions until at least mid-July may suddenly expire and result in a wave of eviction attempts.
So what should we do? As research indicates, we need to encourage universal face mask usage in public, and be prepared for brief lock-down phases as necessary – if we do so, modeling shows we can “flatten the curve” and even prevent future waves. But ONLY if nearly 100% of us wear masks at all times in public. It’s crucial we all wear a mask.
In the meantime, until the COVID-19 crisis is finally passed, workers and businesses need help. I’ve written previously about actions the county and state legislature could take – including rent/mortgage freeze, utility freeze, and single payer healthcare, plus emptying the jail – and am very frustrated that the legislature chose to work on ending the emergency declaration rather than passing legislation that would actually help people through the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19. A lot can be done now. Legislators must act, not delay and ignore.
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