At a May 11 press conference, President Donald Trump falsely suggested that Pennsylvania was making “no effort” to reopen its economy, which was largely shut down by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, the state is in the midst of a phased reopening. Restrictions have been eased although by no means eliminated in 24 counties, and will be relaxed in another 13 on May 15. The remaining 30 counties are under a stay-at-home order through June 4, and no timetable has been released for when that will change.
Trump singled out Pennsylvania at a Rose Garden press conference when asked, “how do you respond to criticism that you’re also motivated by politics to try to grow the economy ahead of the election?”
Trump, May 11: Well, I think that if you look at Pennsylvania, as an example; if you look at various other states — I won’t get into them — the people want to go back. The numbers are getting to a point where they can, and there just seems to be no effort on certain blue states to get back into gear. And the people aren’t going to stand for it; they want to get back. They’re not going to stand for it. They want our country open.
On April 16, Trump unveiled guidelines for reopening the states but said he would leave it up to individual governors to “call your own shots” on how they did so, based on local circumstances. However, he hasn’t hesitated to call them out if he has problems with their approaches, as his comments about Pennsylvania show. With unemployment soaring and the election less than six months away, Trump has frequently expressed eagerness to get the economy restarted.
In Pennsylvania, as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, on March 16 extended a shutdown order to the entire state. Previously, such orders had been in place for counties in the Philadelphia area that had the highest number of cases in the state.
The state, which has the fifth largest population in the U.S., had 57,154 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (sixth highest) and 3,731 deaths (fifth highest) as of May 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On April 22, Wolf announced a gradual reopening plan under which restrictions would be eased in counties around the state as conditions improve.
The state’s color-coded plan spells out three phases: red, yellow and green. The red phase, still in place for much of the state, is the one featuring the stay-at-home order. Large gatherings are prohibited; restaurants and bars are limited to take-out and delivery service, and people are encouraged to travel only for life-sustaining purposes. Schools and most child-care facilities are closed.
In the yellow phase, the restrictions are eased somewhat but some remain in place. Stay-at-home orders are lifted. Retail businesses are permitted to reopen, although curbside pickup and delivery are still encouraged. Child-care centers can open. While some gatherings are permitted, those with more than 25 people are prohibited. Bars and restaurants are still limited to take-out and delivery. Gyms and nail salons remain shuttered. Schools remain closed.
As of May 8, 24 counties — many of them rural counties in northern and western Pennsylvania — moved to the yellow phase.
“These counties were deemed ready to move to a reopening – or yellow phase – because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread,” the governor’s office said in a press release.
The statement said the decision was guided by a “risk-based decision support tool” developed by the state in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
On May 8, Wolf announced that 13 more counties, largely in western Pennsylvania, would move to the yellow phase on May 15.
In the populous Philadelphia region in southeastern Pennsylvania, no restrictions have been eased. None of the counties has reached the state’s target of having fewer than 50 new confirmed cases per 100,000 population in the last 14 days.
The Pennsylvania approach seems to be in line with federal guidelines, which call for a “downward trajectory” of cases over a 14-day period before reopening.
In the green phase, life pretty much returns to a new normal, or post-pandemic normal.
As in other states, the Pennsylvania shutdown order has sparked protests. In recent weeks a number of county officials said they simply plan to ignore the order. In response, Wolf has threatened to withhold federal coronavirus recovery aid from the defiant counties.
So, Pennsylvania is by no means fully open for business. But Trump was wrong to suggest that it has made “no effort” to restart its economy.
Editor’s note: Swing State Watch is an occasional series about false and misleading political messages in key states that will help decide the 2020 presidential election.
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