Lancaster - Lebanon

A pair of in-depth articles on Harrisburg's PennLive.com this week offer a detailed account of how the coronavirus pandemic has played out so far in Lancaster County and Lebanon County, respectively.

They are part of an ambitious series, "Coronavirus in Pa."

The article on Lancaster County suggests there was cause to fear a "catastrophic impact" from coronavirus here, because the county has multiple large demographic groups with higher-than-average risk: Senior citizens, Latinos with limited English and limited access to health care, and the state's largest population of Amish.

However, notwithstanding a brutal wave of nursing home deaths this spring that claimed more than 200 lives, PennLive reports that Lancaster County has been able to get out ahead of the virus, driving case numbers down and keeping them stable.

The report cites a couple of factors that helped: The county's major players collaborated effectively; and the county was large enough to receive direct access to its federal CARES Act aid, allowing it to move more quickly and independently than counties that received funds through the state.

Nonprofits were a big part of the effort. The piece cites examples such as SACA, the Spanish American Civic Association, which scaled up its meal service and pivoted to grab-n-go delivery; and the Lancaster Health Center, which got out in front on testing and tracing and made strenuous efforts, including investments in telemedicine, to ensure marginalized individuals would have access to care.

Lebanon County

In Lebanon County, by contrast, everything about the coronavirus response revolves around one thing: The county's feud with Gov. Tom Wolf's administration.

After the county commissioners voted to enter the state's "green" recovery phase ahead of schedule, Wolf's team withheld nearly $13 million in funding.

(The money was subsequently released following a negotiated legal settlement.)

Legal questions that arose that remain unsettled: Did Wolf exceed his authority? Does language in the settlement prohibiting either side from "disparaging" it or each other inappropriately curb elected officials' free-speech rights and duties?

The episode clearly continues to rankle. The county's two Republican commissioners tell PennLive that local businesses desperately needed to see light at the end of the tunnel and that they considered their vote symbolic. A state spokesman insists the administration acted appropriately.

Tim Stuhldreher
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