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Response by Gov. Wolf, Levine to coronavirus pandemic has been a failure: Sen. Mike Regan

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One-third of Pennsylvania is beginning to reopen under Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-phase, color-coded approach. Yet, certain businesses in that region are still being prevented from opening with no justification, and there are other areas of the state questioning why they have not been given the go-ahead. The decisions are being made in darkness, and Pennsylvanians are seeking answers.

The Senate of Pennsylvania has held several hearings in recent weeks to uncover the decision making process, starting with the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, which I chair, and the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee holding a joint hearing on the business waiver process. After the Department of Community and Economic Development failed to provide my committee with information, the committee took action and voted to authorize two subpoenas, one to Wolf and one to Secretary Dennis Davin to find out more about the process. The governor and Davin were given until May 8 to respond.

Other committees have examined such issues as the Department of State’s preparations for the June 2 primary election, Labor and Industry’s dismal handling of the record influx of unemployment compensation claims, the Liquor Control Board’s closing of state stores, and the administration’s plan for reopening Pennsylvania.

All of these hearings have had a universal question asked of the testifiers from Wolf’s administration: Who is making these decisions?

The business community has told us time and again, that they were not consulted by the governor regarding his life-sustaining business list and now, regarding business re-openings. Business owners are now being penalized for opening their doors, while the Wolf administration has let 135 convicted felons out of state prison early. Even the Liquor Control Board didn’t actually vote on whether to close the state stores — it was the governor’s office that made the decision. And we witnessed the governor in a press conference blatantly disregard the rules of unemployment compensation by advising employers to increase pay if workers don’t want to return because they are making more on unemployment than if they were working. But besides the governor, the other constant figure that arises as a decision maker for Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 response is Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

I do not doubt that Dr. Levine is working very hard during this pandemic and that the secretary has the best interest of Pennsylvanians’ health in mind with every decision. However, a pediatric doctor, with a staff that has no infectious disease background let alone a medical background, should not be the sole advisor to the governor during a pandemic that has crushed our economy and lead to the rise of other overlooked health-related issues.

In a crisis, leadership is pivotal, and having the right people in the right posts is of the utmost importance. This pandemic is outside the scope of  Levine’s discipline, and this is all the more reason why Levine should be following the lead from Pennsylvania’s leading hospital systems. 

At the federal level, there is a Coronavirus Task Force, comprised of medical professionals with expertise in infectious diseases and global health. Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Wolf established a task force in mid-April to study the impact COVID-19 has had on minorities, led by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Not a task force to study the impacts on businesses or the economy, and not a task force of medical experts to advise the governor on COVID-19 decision-making.

Because medical experts and the business community have had their hands tied by the administration, we are seeing entities choosing to call their own shots. This includes UPMC, which will be reinstating elective surgeries because they have not experienced the number of COVID-19 cases originally anticipated. Levine, however, has indicated the state will not provide personal protective equipment to facilities that reinstate elective surgeries.

Yet again, the administration is picking winners and losers and punishing industries while using a one-size fits all approach for the entire commonwealth. UPMC, on the other hand, has medical professionals that have used scientific data to strategically determine they are in a position to serve both the COVID-19 population and the general population.

Adding insult to injury, the governor and Levine have turned to number crunchers at Carnegie Mellon University, which is not a medical school, to determine the regions and timeframes for reopening the commonwealth. Are these statisticians taking into account the fact that the majority of deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities? And what about the fact that Levine directed these facilities on March 1 to admit new patients and to allow patients to return after hospital stays, which, according to her guidelines, “may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus?”

It is no wonder Wolf has been graded an “F” in a recent report highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, “Grading our Governors: A Report Card on Reopening States’ Economies.” Relying solely on a pediatric doctor and a handful of staff with no medical or infectious disease experience and without consultation of industries, Wolf and Levine continue to unilaterally make decisions for the entire commonwealth that boil down to their continued sentiment of “Stay calm, stay home and stay safe.”

We can’t keep sitting on our hands and hoping for the best. Pennsylvania needs actual experts assisting with the decision-making — it is well past time.

Sen. Mike Regan represents Pennsylvania’s 31st Senate District covering parts of Cumberland and York counties.