Wolf’s plan shortchanges Blair County

There might be legitimate reasons for organizing Pennsylvania’s counties into six regions for administrative purposes, but using those same divisions as a qualifier for easing COVID-19 restrictions is simply absurd.

And if Gov. Tom Wolf ignores common sense and sticks to his plan, the Legislature — for the good of the state — should severely clip his wings and those of future governors on the power to institute closures.

In announcing his plan for allowing Pennsylvania to begin to reopen, the governor outlined his plan last week, which was about as transparent as milk.

Under the plan, which also includes other nebulous criteria, the administration will look at each county’s 14-day average of new COVID-19 cases to see if there are fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people. That should be good news for our area because Blair and its five surrounding counties — even Centre — all fall below that threshold.

But Wolf added a wrinkle.

The state Department of Health has divided the state into six regions, each with a regional office. Now the governor says every county in the region must be below 50 cases per 100,000 people in order for any county in the region to be considered for eased restrictions that could allow more businesses to reopen.

Blair, Bedford and Huntingdon — which on Thursday had unofficial 14-day averages of 10, 23 and 27 respectively — have the misfortune of being lumped into a region that includes York at 93, Dauphin at 112, Juniata at 227 and Lebanon with 280.

Cambria (12 per 100,000) is in the southwest region with, among others, Allegheny (79) and Beaver (113). Clearfield is the northwest region, and Centre is in the northcentral region, which the governor has indicated will be the first to see restrictions eased.

State Reps. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona, and Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, have written the governor asking that the criteria be changed.

Gregory wrote, “I join with my constituents to demand a different approach to allow for the people of this district to reopen businesses and services immediately. … My constituents have every reason to demand a different approach that is fair, not arbitrary and punitive, to the people who have followed all guidelines for safety.”

Schmitt was more blunt, saying, “The governor’s program shows how much he has lost touch with the reality faced by the hardworking taxpayers and business owners of Blair County and much of the commonwealth. I call on him to consider the damage he will cause to counties like Blair with this capricious and ill-considered proposal.”

Schmitt made a logical suggestion that Wolf ease restrictions as soon as possible on counties with less than 50 confirmed cases. If there is a spike in cases, restrictions could be reimposed. Nearly half of Pennsylvania would qualify under this measure and move a step closer to normal.

For the other counties with higher case numbers, Wolf should devise a transparent criteria on what they need to do to get relief and update the progress daily on the Health Department website so there is a clear goal.

No one wants to see a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, but Pennsylvania counties whose residents have done the most to limit the spread should be rewarded first with eased restrictions.

That’s simple and common sense.

Gov. Wolf, we’re waiting.


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