Pennsylvania moves forward as health crisis persists

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania passed the 50,000 milestone in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases, but hospitals, except in northeast and southeast regions, have not been overwhelmed.

Nearly 70% of ventilators have been unused and nearly 50% of regular and ICU beds remain available statewide, according to the state Health Department.

“We were successful,” said Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. “The mitigation efforts flattened that curve,” she said of the Wolf Administration’s shutdown of the economy.

Data shows, however, that two-thirds of coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, nearly all fatalities occurred in people over 65. Some wonder if the strategy of shutting everything down instead of targeting those vulnerable populations was misguided?

“I don’t think our initial and continuing plans have been misguided at all,” Levine said. “We want to protect the entire population from Covid-19 and its continuing side effects.”

But Republican lawmakers continue to question the shutdown strategy.

“Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that hasn’t opened up real estate sales. Can you explain the rationale?” asked Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery/Berks/Bucks) of administration officials during a Monday morning hearing. He was one of several senators who expressed displeasure that certain business sectors or rural parts of their counties were still shut down.

They are also frustrated at what they call a lack of transparency by the Wolf administration over the exact criterion for reopening counties and what specific data will move a region from red to yellow.

So frustrated, that Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson/Indiana) said during a House hearing that the administration reminds of him of Germany in World War II.

“More and more, I go back to the German Democratic Nationalist Party, the Nazi Party,” Dush said during his remarks, prompting an admonition from Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia).

“Chairman, this is offensive and outrageous with the Nazi references,” Boyle said curtly. “Stop it. It’s offensive and wrong. Stop it.”

But Dush fired back, “It’s history.”

Levine is confident she is on the right side of history and says reopening too quickly is just too risky.

“Then we would just go right back into that exponential rise in cases and it could be even worse than that rise we saw before,” she said.

The June 2 primary election will still go on and polling places will still be open, Gov. Wolf announced Monday. But he noted that some will be consolidated as local precincts struggle to staff facilities.

The governor touted mail-in ballots, which are now legal, and he said he’d register later Monday at VotesPA.com.

The governor wants everyone to vote by mail but acknowledged it could stress the system if everyone decided to vote by mail. That, he said, is why voters shouldn’t wait until the last minute.

“Providing [elections officials] with as much time as possible to process your application and get your ballot in the mail is a great way to thank them for their hard work,’ Wolf said of registering and voting as soon as possible.

The deadline to register for the June 2 election is May 18. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is May 26. Voters can take their mail-in ballot to their polling place up until 8 p.m. election day.

The health secretary said by the end of the week her team will have guidance for dentists who have not been able to perform routine work like teeth cleanings.

She also said her team is working on guidance for swimming pools as the summer months loom.

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