(The Center Square) – House lawmakers formally advanced a resolution Thursday to terminate Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration for COVID-19 in an attempt to relieve economic pressure from the state-enforced shut down.
The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted along party lines in favor of a resolution, sponsored by Lebanon County Republican Rep. Russ Diamond, that would end the state of emergency declared by Gov. Tom Wolf on March 6.
Wolf cited special powers given under a disaster declaration as the basis for his forced business closures that went into effect March 23, as well as continued adherence to his administration’s phased reopening plan. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine and other health officials have stressed the importance of a slow, gradual return to economic activity to prevent future outbreaks that could overwhelm the health care system – a worst-case scenario the state has so far avoided.
Diamond agreed that while the shutdowns succeeded in flattening the curve, he said the virus has evolved into a problem for nursing and personal care homes, rather than the general public. As such, he said, the aggressive mitigation strategies now infringe on “God-given rights."
“The general public is growing increasingly angry about this,” he said. “If this continues, we could see the threat of civil unrest. The possibility of more damage being inflicted on this commonwealth by continuing this emergency rather than terminating is real.”
About two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 4,500 deaths from COVID-19 occurred in residential care settings. The administration has drafted a universal testing plan to combat the rising infection rates, though some continue to question whether the policy shift is too little, too late.
Democrats on the committee opposed the measure, despite expressing sympathy for the economic hardship created by the shut downs. About 1.8 million residents have applied for jobless benefits since Wolf ordered nonessential businesses to close nine weeks ago.
“We may not always agree with what’s happened the last two months … but we have flattened the curve,” said Minority Chairman Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence. “We have been successful to this point because of the action taken by the governor and health professionals.”
The resolution now advances to the full House for consideration. House GOP spokesperson Mike Straub said the caucus will discuss the plan, as well as a potential vote, after session resumes next week.