Lancaster County will begin to take action to restart its economy, whether or not Gov. Tom Wolf agrees, local officials said this weekend.
In a letter to Wolf dated Saturday, 13 office holders, all Republicans, said the county is ready to enter the state's "yellow phase" of reopening this coming Friday. They blasted the Democratic governor's handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
"We prefer to act with your cooperation, but we intend to move forward," says the letter, which is signed by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, county commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D'Agostino, nine state legislators and Sheriff Chris Leppler.
Meanwhile, District Attorney Heather Adams, also Republican, said in a press release Sunday that Wolf's "continuously changing orders" have made it impractical to prosecute violations of the state's stay-at-home directive, so her office will not prosecute any violations.
The officials' letter aligns Lancaster County with other central Pennsylvania counties that are either petitioning to reopen, or planning to move ahead in defiance of the governor's stay-at-home order.
Wolf allowed 24 counties in northwest and northcentral Pennsylvania to enter the "yellow" phase this past Friday, and another 13 in western Pennsylvania will do so this coming Friday.
The state's guidelines say counties should have no more than about 50 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days to reopen. Lancaster County's rate is about 2.5 times that benchmark.
The county's Democratic office-holders said reopening would be dangerously premature.
Without increased testing and contact tracing, "we risk doing more harm than good," county Commissioner Craig Lehman said.
Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace, likewise, in a lengthy statement, took issue with the letter's claim that the county is prepared. There is as yet no countywide contact tracing, sufficient protective equipment, an early warning system or funding for retrofitting buildings for Covid-19 safety.
"The City does not condone or support any actions in contradiction of the Governor's letter," she said.
The Republicans' letter says reopening "is what our citizens want and deserve." It says the Wolf administration has "stymied" attempts to obtain critical data and acted without transparency, and in so doing, has forfeited public goodwill.
It says the spike in Covid-19 deaths at nursing homes — which account for more than 90% of Lancaster County's fatalities — resulted from the state administration's "unilateral decision" to force the homes to accept Covid-19 patients without providing appropriate policies and oversight.
"This strategy, or lack thereof, is shocking when every scientific report stated that older Americans are most at risk," it says.
In a statement, Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said the administration "is hopeful that everyone will act in the best interest of public health."
"Reopening businesses too early will only extend the length of the economic hardships created by the pandemic" and "will result in deaths," she said.