Go their own way? DAs in two Pa. counties say they’re not going to enforce stay at home orders

    Governor Tom Wolf at a March 12 press conference announcing Pennsylvania's new COVID-19 response strategies. Source: Commonwealth Media Services.

    Local officials in at least two Pennsylvania counties may not comply with state-issued stay-at-home orders starting next week, when almost half of Pennsylvania counties will be permitted to gradually reopen businesses and public offices.

    District attorneys in Lebanon County, in south-central Pennsylvania, and Beaver County, in western Pennsylvania, have both indicated that they will stop enforcing stay-at-home orders beginning May 15. 

    Neither of the counties have been permitted to enter the “yellow phase” of Pennsylvania’s tiered reopening system, which allows retail stores, day care centers and other businesses to operate as long as they follow federal social distancing guidelines. 

    Instead, they’re slated to remain under strict stay-at-home orders that have been in place across the state for the nearly two months. 

    But Lebanon County’s elected officials – including two commissioners, the district attorney, the coroner and sheriff – told Gov. Tom Wolf in a letter Friday that they intend to lift stay-at-home orders locally next Friday, with or without his approval.  

    “We have heard the pleas of our residents who desire the ability to safely re-open their businesses and safely return to work,” states the letter, which was also signed by the county’s Republican state lawmakers, state Sen. Dave Arnold and Reps. Russ Diamond, Frank Ryan and Sue Helm. 

    Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier also said this week that he will not prosecute businesses that reopen in defiance of Wolf’s stay-at-home order, which is currently slated to remain in effect for “red phase” counties until June 4. 

    Beaver County is the only jurisdiction in western Pennsylvania that is not slated to enter a gradual reopening phase next week.

    Two dozen counties in north-central and northwestern Pennsylvania began a gradual reopening process on Friday, and Wolf announced 13 more that would join on Friday, May 15. 

    The 13 counties that will be permitted to reopen next week include most of western Pennsylvania, with the exception of Beaver County — the site of a nursing home that has seen one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the state. 

    Wolf said at a press conference Friday that local officials “are taking a chance with the lives of residents and the citizens” by refusing to prosecute stay-at-home orders.

    This story was updated Friday night to reflect that two county commissioners signed the Lebanon County letter. 

    Wolf: 13 SWPA counties will reopen on May 15; 37 of 67 counties now move out of quarantine