HARRISBURG – Local legislators teamed up with county commissioners this week to ask Governor Tom Wolf to reclassify Susquehanna and Wyoming counties under his plan to reopen the state.
Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-111), Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) and Rep. Karen Boback (R-117) all signed a letter to the governor requesting that Susquehanna and Wyoming counties be moved to the north central region, rather than their current designation within the northeast region. Mirroring the views expressed in official actions taken by both counties on Tuesday, the legislators cited fewer COVID-19 cases and demographics as reasoning behind the change.
“Science and common sense are critical in the decision making,” the legislators said in their letter to Wolf. “If counties such as Susquehanna and Wyoming, which have a relatively low number of coronavirus cases and few concentrations of population, are judged simply in terms of proximity to more populous counties, it will be a matter of injustice. Longstanding partnerships and collaborations established as a result of numerous demographic similarities would prove useful during various stages of recovery and for multiple community sectors. Health care systems in both counties also bolster hospital capacity in the northern tier.”
Last week, the Administration announced that it will utilize a three-phase matrix to determine when counties or regions are ready to begin easing some restrictions on work, congregate settings, and social interactions. It cited “case density” and hospital capacity as the easing of restrictions begin. In the plan, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties are grouped with Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Northampton and other northeastern counties where the case density is much greater.
In their letter the legislators added, “a signal accomplishment of your administration was development and implementation of the rural health initiative to save small community hospitals and health centers, something each of us strongly advocated. People sincerely hope that the recognition and resolve state officials invested in that plan will be applied during the decisions made about reopening the economy.”
“It is basic and essential that rural counties with lower numbers of positive cases be given the green light to reopen as soon as possible,” Rep. Fritz added.
“Counties should be judged by their individual circumstances and health care capabilities, rather than a broader geographical basis,” said Sen. Lisa Baker. “This is the view of many of the workers and families I’ve been hearing from, whose livelihoods are at stake as much as the merchants and entrepreneurs who provide the economic lifeline of our small communities.”
“It is important that Susquehanna and Wyoming counties be included with their neighbors in the north central region, since they share the same circumstances with COVID-19,” Rep. Pickett said. “The north central counties also have similar populations and work collaboratively in governmental compacts and agency program agreements.”
“I hope the administration takes into account the case density in these counties as it evaluates reopening in the coming days or weeks,” Senator Yaw said. “There is no question that people want to get back to work. This can be done safety, while mitigating the threat of exposure.”
Jennifer Wilson (Sen. Baker)
Rita Zielonis (Sen. Yaw)
Abby Krueger (Rep. Fritz)
Andy Briggs (Rep. Pickett)
Michael Plummer (Rep. Boback)