Green counties coming soon? Wolf could announce some today

GOP legislature continues to object to lack of transparency

  • Ed Mahon
Hello, Contexters. We hope you have a safe and restful Memorial Day weekend. The Context will return to your inbox Tuesday morning, after which we’ll return to a weekday-only schedule. — Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter

Kate Landis / PA Post

Lancaster County is one of 18 in Pennsylvania that, as of Friday morning, remains in the most restrictive red phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan. (Kate Landis / PA Post)

As of this morning, 49 out of 67 Pennsylvania counties are in the yellow phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan. That means many retail businesses can reopen, and people can leave their homes for any reason. But barbershops, gyms and theaters must remain closed, and restaurants are delivery or carryout only.

Today, Wolf plans to announce that more counties will see restrictions lifted.

“I’ll be announcing a whole range of counties … moving from red to yellow,” Wolf told reporters Thursday.

And he said he hopes to announce that some counties “might even be moving from yellow to green.”

Going to the green phase means most restrictions are lifted, but businesses and people have to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Wolf could identify counties that will move to green even though he hasn’t made public what metrics he’s using to decide which counties go to green.

Republicans, as you might imagine, called out the governor’s lack of transparency.

“I can’t wait to read the media accounts about how the scientific medically-driven data poofed into existence the Yellow-to-Green criteria,” Stephen Miskin, director of communications for the House Republican caucus, wrote on Twitter.

“But wait – I thought we didn’t have criteria for moving to green? Did that criteria for getting to green come out and I missed it? If so, someone help me. What is it?” wrote Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican Caucus.

Despite the lack of clear criteria, PennLive’s Greg Pickel looked at the available data and concluded that “Bradford and Potter appear to be the counties with the best cases to move ahead to green if the governor is ready to take that step … .”

The governor is placing and lifting these restrictions under a disaster emergency that he signed on March 6. It is scheduled to expire in early June. But he has the option to renew it (something he did many times with his opioid disaster declaration.)

I asked the governor if he planned to renew this one — and if we should expect to be living under a disaster emergency declaration for six months or a year from now.

“A year from now? I hope not,” he said. “I hope we move beyond this.”

He said while he plans to renew the current declaration, he might be able to terminate it before the next 90 days are up. Meanwhile, he opposes Republican-led efforts to end his disaster declaration through a resolution, as Ben Pontz and I wrote about here.

Wolf says he has the power to veto such a resolution. A House Republican lawmaker sponsoring the resolution says it’s an “open question.”

During a telephone town hall, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) acknowledged the different legal views.

“As I like to tell people, my brain is not burdened with a law degree,” Corman said. “And every time I talk to the attorneys, I get less clear on an issue.”

In related news, Erie County officials are worried that a recent spike in coronavirus cases could result in the reimposition of the tightest controls.  “If our numbers continue to go up, we will not be looking to go to the green phase any time soon,” County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said Thursday. “There’s more of a chance that we would return to the red phase.”

Also, a federal judge on Thursday rejected a second lawsuit filed to overturn Wolf’s shutdown order. PennLive has the story: U.S. judge refuses to override Gov. Wolf’s coronavirus business closure, stay-at-home orders

Best of the rest

Ron DiNicola

(Ed Mahon / PA Post)

Ron DiNicola, an attorney and one of the leaders of the effort to bring a community college to Erie, speaks during a committee meeting of the state Board of Education in Erie on Nov. 13, 2019.  (Ed Mahon / PA Post)

  • Community college hearing set: When the pandemic arrived in March, the state Board of Education postponed its March evidentiary hearing on Erie County’s community college application. Now, that meeting will take place virtually over two days: June 10 and 11. Supporters will present their evidence first, followed by presentations from Northern Pennsylvania Regional College and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson). Scarnati has opposed the community college plan, saying the regional college makes it unnecessary.

  • Social distancing on beaches? The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Amy S. Rosenberg describes how life will be different at Jersey Shore beaches this weekend. There are many changes, including new rules around alcohol consumption. North Wildwood leaders voted to relax open container laws, while Sea Isle City leaders created new rules for to-go alcohol. In Pennsylvania, beaches at state parks will remain closed until at least June 5.

  • What parks will be like in yellow: York is one of 12 counties that moved into the yellow phase today. And the county park system is reopening more of its operations, including restrooms and an off-leash dog area. But, in sad news for me personally, the nature play areas at Rocky Ridge and Nixon parks remain closed. Those are super fun places for families.

  • Perfect storm: Crises change things for the long-term in unexpected ways. Example 1: Gov. Wolf signed a bill to allow bars and taverns to offer carryout service for mixed drinks. Example 2: Some Pa. Republicans want to legalize marijuana after coronavirus blew a hole in the budget: ‘It’s inevitable’. Paging Lt. Gov. Fetterman…

Further reading:

Cuban sandwich

Last month, The Context linked to a story about how coronavirus restrictions were decimating the restaurant industry. That story mentioned a Pittsburgh institution, the Original Hot Dog Shop in the city’s Oakland neighborhood. Well, some potentially good news: Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh native and billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, says he’s working on a plan to revive the place. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the news.

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