Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday warned on Twitter of “consequences” for counties that defy his stay-at-home orders and plans for a phased reopening of the state’s economy. Pennsylvania has seen 61,086 cases of coronavirus and 3,899 deaths — the fifth-highest in the nation — as of Tuesday, according to tracking information from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Wolf is moving counties through a “red-yellow-green” phased reopening, with 37 scheduled to be in the “yellow” phase by the end of this week. But others still in the more restrictive “red” phase — as well as some businesses in those counties — have said they will defy Wolf’s orders and reopen anyway. The “red” phase restricts restaurants to carry-out, closes all but essential businesses, prohibits large gatherings and leaves children home from school.
Several counties have said they will move from the “red” phase to “yellow” without the approval of Wolf’s administration.
“Enough is enough. It is time to reopen the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and return our state to the people (as prescribed by our Constitution) and not run it as a dictatorship,” Jeff Haste, a Republican and the chairman of the board of commissioners in Dauphin County, said in a letter addressed to “the People of Pennsylvania.“
Trump has appeared to nudge local officials in Pennsylvania who have sought to defy Wolf’s orders forward.
On Monday morning, the President tweeted: “The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”
Wolf, 71, is a typically low-key Democrat who was first elected in 2014, when he defeated Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. He was reelected in 2018, defeating Republican challenger Scott Wagner by 17 percentage points. But the coronavirus pandemic has vaulted governors into the national political spotlight, with Wolf the latest among them.
The governor on Monday said he would withhold federal stimulus money from counties that ignored his order. He also said that businesses that violate the statewide order would risk being sued and restaurants could receive citations that could cost their liquor licenses.
“We are fighting a war that has taken the lives of too many people. And we’re winning,” Wolf said on Twitter. “The politicians who are encouraging us to quit the fight are acting in a most cowardly way.”
Trump is set to visit Pennsylvania on Thursday for a tour of a medical supply distributor in Allentown as he pushes for a quick economic rebound even as the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that returning to work and school too quickly could worsen the pandemic.
“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control, which in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Fauci told lawmakers on Tuesday.
The battle in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state in November’s general election between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, comes weeks after a similar fight in Michigan, another important state for Trump’s reelection in the fall. There, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued restrictive stay-at-home orders that led to small protests, which Trump appeared to egg on. In mid-April, he tweeted a call to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, all states with Democratic governors.
Trump on Tuesday announced his upcoming visit to Allentown.
Wolf later told reporters that the President had not told him of his plans to visit the state.
“I would urge anybody coming to Pennsylvania to respect our efforts to stay safe,” Wolf said.
In an apparent reference to Trump failing to wear face masks during other recent events, Wolf added: “Wherever he visits, hope he does everything in his power to keep employees safe.”
Wolf also told reporters Tuesday he is “frustrated.”
“What I’m trying to do is keep people safe and I think that should be something that everybody in Pennsylvania should rally around, including politicians. And to the extent that they don’t, I think they’re doing a disservice to the people they serve,” the governor said.