Our Reopening Must Prioritize Safety and Health

I had written these thoughts early yesterday. In the meantime, our state representative, along with several other Republican county officials, announced their intention to “reopen” Lebanon County, science and reason be damned.

In case you don’t read any further, let me say: this is anarchy, in defiance of rule and order. Because they didn’t get their way, they decided to operate outside of the government that they themselves are a part of. They could have worked to reassure their constituents, introduce legislation to help people weather this storm, all while still advocating for better executive practices and more transparent communication. Instead, they are recklessly acting in defiance. Make no mistake, this will result in people dying needlessly.

Here are the rest of my thoughts. The latest publicity stunt, with no explanation of how employees and customers will be protected during this rogue reopening, is merely more of the same. Representative Diamond could have been amplifying good things happening, while still advocating for even broader changes – but he chose not to. People on social media are asking when they can buy cars again. They already can. If you don’t believe me, call one of your local car dealerships or visit their websites. Right down the street from me, and from our representative, our local cabinetry store is reopened. Not only that, they’re advertising for help, with an offer to train someone. There is not a whisper of this progress in his statements.

My opponent recently made a splash on social media by rebelling against the State Department of Health’s guidelines for wearing masks while out in public. The DoH, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that everyone wear a mask when they’re going to be out, and requires one for workers and customers who are inside a physical business location. A careful reading of the guidelines makes this clear. Our representative, however, proudly declared that he had been shopping without a mask and provided an interview to a local television station describing his flouting of the rules.

Science is not fixed or static, especially when dealing with a novel coronavirus. Have guidelines and recommendations shifted? Have models been refined as more data becomes available? Of course. That is how science works. Dr. Levine has acknowledged this. US Surgeon General Jerome Adams has acknowledged this. The guidelines and outlook on January 20, when there was only one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States, were much different than they are on May 7, when we have (according to Johns Hopkins University) 1,200,000 confirmed cases and 68,100 deaths. Here in Lebanon County, we have 785 confirmed cases – and still climbing. At least 12 people have died. 2,986 people have tested negative. There are over 140,000 people in the county. That means only 2% of our population have even been tested.

This isn’t a time for party politics. Several bipartisan bills have been passed, such as House Bill 2455 and Senate Bill 841, to help Pennsylvania by doing things like allowing online notary services and prioritizing testing for first responders and health care workers. No reasonable person – Republican, Democrat, Independent, or other – wants to see our economy tank, our businesses fail, our workers left without income. Now, of all times, we should seize the opportunity to work together and accomplish more than we can divided.

Which is why it’s disappointing to see somebody in a position of power model dangerous behavior and spout divisive rhetoric. People on social media, responding to the hyperbolic and rabble-rousing posts of my opponent, called for citizens to use their 2nd amendment rights to clean house in Harrisburg and suggested that Governor Wolf should be hanged. They made offensive comments about Dr. Levine and questioned her expertise. My opponent blocked and deleted comments from those voicing dissent, while ignoring and thereby tacitly supporting these dangerous and counter-productive posts. He has also failed to update his constituents on the progress that has been made.

He also spoke at a rally at the statehouse to reopen the state prematurely. Like many of the protestors, he didn’t wear a mask. They also didn’t practice social distancing. To be clear, I support our right to protest. But contrast the pictures of protestors practicing social distancing in Tel Aviv with those in Harrisburg. The first makes a much more powerful statement that is harder to dismiss, while the second should be an embarrassment for everyone involved.

It’s easy to announce the reopening of businesses. However, that doesn’t ensure that workers or customers will feel safe working in, or patronizing, those businesses. Which is why steady, thoughtful leadership is so important. Unfortunately, we now have a number of case studies from countries around the world identifying what works, as well as what doesn’t, in resuming a more normal life. The lessons we should have learned, and be striving to enact here in Pennsylvania, include: social distancing when possible, wearing masks when not, widely testing using rapid and reliable tests, providing appropriate personal protective equipment to workers (and especially healthcare workers), and using contact tracing to identify and quarantine those who are infected or have been exposed to an infected individual. Doing these things will allow us to reopen sooner, and remain open. What my state representative is suggesting – a free-for-all where you follow whatever rules you believe are best for you—is self-defeating and will result in more unnecessary deaths, along with endless cycles of closing and re-opening.

In the meantime, though, he can serve as a hero to those who believe our only responsibility is to do what is most convenient for ourselves, and let the rest of the world be damned.