Here’s a question all of the two million unemployed Pennsylvanians, their families, people about to lose jobs, homes, businesses and most of the rest of us are interested in: When does an emergency cease to be an emergency? It might continue to be a problem, even a serious one, but at some point it is no longer an emergency.
An emergency is generally considered to be a situation that occurs quickly and in an unforeseen manner and poses a serious and immediate risk to health, life, property, safety or environment. Most emergencies require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening situation until longer- term, more stable solutions can be put in place. Emergency situations are emergencies only until initial containment is affected. Emergency solutions are intended to be short-term containment until more lasting solutions can be put in place. The operative phrase throughout the definition is short-term.
In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak there was arguably an emergency situation at the outset. Based upon unproven computer models, later proven grossly inaccurate, the potential appeared to exist for a rapidly escalating number cases that, by projection, might overwhelm certain medical facilities and the availability of critical medical equipment.
On March 6, Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency and on March 19 issued an executive order effectively shutting down Pennsylvania.
The declared emergency was to put in place actions to avoid peaking of cases. Actions were in theory designed to “flatten the curve” by avoiding all possible human contact.
It didn’t take long to see several things:
- The State Health Department was woefully inept at accurately categorizing and accounting for both cases and virus related deaths.
- Virus related deaths are strongly correlated with long-term care facilities.
- Densely populated urban areas, particularly in the southeast and east, account for a majority of cases.
- The projected peaks never occurred and, in fact, never came close to occurring.
At this point, by any reasonable definition, the emergency should have been declared over and control of remediation returned to health care organizations and the state Legislature, which are accountable to the people.
Instead, for reasons that may be speculated upon elsewhere as less than altruistic, the governor changed the definition of what was being done and created a scenario for opening up Pennsylvania using a red, yellow, green system determined primarily by a declining curve of new cases per 100,000 population.
There is no way on God’s green earth this meets any definition of an emergency either under Act 35 or in plain language. The governor is clearly acting outside of the law and has no authority to continue dictatorial emergency authority.
Over a month or more – underline month or more so we all understand there is certainly no time critical imperative – the governor has moved a large number of counties to his yellow category, granting some relaxation of emergency control measures indicating clearly for all to see that the short-term emergency, if there was one, is over. Most recently, he has moved some counties to a green status which, according to him, is a “near normal” state, even though numerous restrictions still vex those in this status.
When asked when Pennsylvanians will see football games and regular school schedules and so on, the governor then inserted a new and entirely different definition of the reason for his emergency, that being the development of a safe, lasting, effective vaccine.
The current virus is a coronavirus, of the same family as H1N1 and H3N2 for which we do not yet have effective long-term vaccines. So what is he saying? His emergency will now last for years?
Please be clear about this. If there was an emergency under Act 35, it was because of the possibility of peaking cases overwhelming medical facilities and immediate action was called for. That ended maybe six weeks later when it was obvious that was not going to happen. At that point, the emergency act should have been dissolved. Fault our Legislature for not acting on this point, both Republicans and Democrats because they all represent the people.
Calling a “reopening plan” an emergency is utter nonsense in every sense of the word. That is clearly the purview of the Legislature.
Now, the governor says he plans to extend his 90-day emergency authority and hold the commonwealth and its citizens hostage until a “safe, effective and long lasting vaccine” is developed. This is beyond the pale.
Our Legislature must pass a joint resolution and put an end to the fantasy land in which this governor is living.
Is there a problem that must be dealt with? Absolutely, but it is the responsibility of our elected Legislature to do so, not an unconstrained governor and an unelected pediatrician.
Dave Ball is vice chairman of the Republican Party of Washington County and a Peters Township councilman.