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Dauphin County commissioners say they want to build up economy as yellow phase nears

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Dauphin County commissioners said today they are looking forward to getting businesses and the economy up and running as the county moves into the yellow phase next Friday.

Wolf announced the move of the county from the red to yellow phase along with Franklin, Huntingdon, Lebanon, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Schuylkill.

Board Chairman Jeff Haste and Commissioner Mike Pries, both Republicans, have been very outspoken in their criticism of Wolf, a Democrat, and his handling of the coronavirus response.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of residents and business owners that the time to reopen is now,” Board Chairman Jeff Haste said in a press release today. “Our focus remains supporting local businesses and building our economy back up, while directing resources to where they are needed most.”

Two weeks ago, Haste wrote a public letter to "the people of Pennsylvania" calling for Wolf to stop running the state as a "dictatorship" during the pandemic.

“Enough is enough," Haste's letter begins. "It is time to reopen the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and return our state to the people (as prescribed by our Constitution) and not run it as a dictatorship.”

In the letter, Haste said the “governor has pitted groups of Pennsylvanians against one another" and "has not included county commissioners in this process" when it comes to the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses. He said that he has "no faith in Gov. Wolf and Secretary Levine’s ability to do the right thing.”

In statements released today, Haste emphasized that Dauphin County is a “business sanctuary county,” meaning that businesses choosing to reopen and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health guidelines will not be prosecuted by District Attorney Fran Chardo. Sheriff Nick Chimienti also said that his office will not enforce the governor’s order to keep “non-essential businesses” closed.

According to the governor’s plan, yellow phase guidelines are as follows:

• Work and congregate settings: Telework must continue where feasible, businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders, child care open if complying with guidance, congregate care and prison restrictions in place, and schools remain closed for in-person instruction.

• Social restrictions: stay at home order lifted for aggressive mitigation, large gatherings of more than 25 prohibited, in-person retail allowable with curbside and delivery preferable, indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities and personal care services (such as gyms, spas, hair salons, nail salons and other entities that provide massage therapy) and all entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) remain closed, and restaurants and bars are limited to carry-out and delivery only.

All businesses must follow CDC and DOH guidance for social distancing and cleaning and monitor public health indicators, adjust orders and restrictions as necessary.

“The data for weeks was painstakingly clear: Focus resources on our most vulnerable residents and nursing homes while easing restrictions elsewhere,” Pries said. “This is a positive step toward rebuilding our economy and getting people back to work.”

Last week, the commissioners announced that they were forming a Reopen and Restore Dauphin County Task Force to develop a plan to reopen and rebuild the economy.

“I’ve spoken with Gov. Wolf and I’m grateful that he’s decided to begin consulting with county leaders, who are most familiar with their communities, to develop a plan that helps us prioritize both public health and safety as well as economic stability,” Commissioner George P. Hartwick III said. “We need to get people back to work using a safe, measured approach and provide a level of certainty for residents and businesses. Our goal is not to get to yellow but to get to green and stay there.”

Although Dauphin County government offices continue to operate and serve the public, offices remain closed to the public. County officials are preparing to reopen to the public in the near future, the press release stated, and additional safeguards will be in place to protect employees and the public.

Dauphin County Prison will continue to operate under its pandemic protocol and only allow video visitation until further notice, according to the press release.