As shutdown is extended, Pike commissioners work on a reopening plan

Milford. Frustrated with what they see as a lack of clarity from the state about reopening the economy, the Pike County Commissioners are working with other counties on their own reopening plan, which they will present to the governor. On May 7, Gov. Wolf extended his stay-at-home order to June 4.

13 May 2020 | 01:43

The coronavirus death toll grew last Thursday by more than 300 as Gov. Tom Wolf ordered most Pennsylvania residents to stay at home until June 4, extending a statewide edict he first imposed April 1 to slow the spread of the virus.

The revised stay-at-home order, issued late on May 7 to replace one that was set to expire at midnight, applies to all counties that remain under Wolf's strictest lockdown orders -- meaning that for now, millions of people, including Pike County residents, face the prospect of at least another month at home. At the same time, the governor allowed more counties with relatively few virus infections to emerge from some pandemic restrictions starting on May 8.

The Pike County Commissioners, frustrated with what they say is a lack of guidance from the state, said they are working develop a proposal to submit to Gov. Wolf outlining a clear and safe reopening plan. They are developing the plan with leaders in neighboring Carbon, Monroe, and Wayne counties, including municipal officials, health care facilities, and organizations like the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau and regional chambers of commerce.

The commissioners commended Pike County residents and business owners for the sacrifices they have made over the past two months to help flatten the curve of COVID-19. And while Pike officials will continue to follow the law, the commissioners said in a statement, they are "keenly aware of the economic hardships the governor’s restrictions bring to local businesses."

The county does not have the authority to supersede the governor’s public health restrictions, they said.

“We are disappointed in the lack of guidance from Governor Wolf regarding a path to recovery, yet we recognize the difficult job he faces during this unprecedented crisis,” said Commissioner Ronald Schmalzle.

Commissioner Steve Guccini said it would be "irresponsible to direct businesses to go against the governor’s order and to risk even further adverse economic consequences during this very challenging time, but we believe the Pocono Mountains region should be moved to the yellow phase of the state’s reopening process."

CONSEQUENCES FOR BUSINESSES

In his May 11 press conference, Wolf said businesses that operate outside of the state’s reopening process would face consequences. They could jeopardize their state licensing and liability insurance, while county government could lose millions of dollars in discretionary funding that helps much-needed local services.

The Pike commissioners say they hope local COVID-19 statistics – "which have not overwhelmed our health care facilities – in combination with a strong and balanced alliance of community leaders, businesses interests, and public health officials will present a reasoned, united front that will be appropriately recognized at the state level for its responsible approach to reopening."

As of Wednesday, Pike County has 451 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 21 deaths from COVID-19.

The commissioners are also pursuing funding and programs that can assist local businesses and non-profits in reopening by providing sanitation products and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) necessary to ensure the safety of employees, patrons, and visitors. Additional testing capacity and contact tracing will also be implemented.

They have also directed the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to compile resources for local businesses that provide reopening guidance on safety measures and standard operating procedures from experts such as the Center for Disease Control, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and industry-specific organizations such as the PMVB, American Camping Association, National Restaurant Association, and others that relate to retail stores, salons, personal care, and other industries. These resources will be available on the county and EDA websites.

“Now more than ever it is the time to lead our business community toward a responsible path to reopening, first into the yellow phase and ultimately to green,” said commissioners' chair Matthew Osterberg. "And we want to ensure that the proper public health and safety measures are in place to prevent an increase or resurgence in COVID-19 cases."

The Pennsylvania counties that moved from the red (shutdown) phase to the yellow (reopening) phase are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren.