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Republican leaders in the General Assembly have called on Gov. Tom Wolf to reconvene a bipartisan pandemic task force. But the Democratic administration says it never stopped working.
On Friday morning, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre; House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster; Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, sent Wolf a letter arguing that Pennsylvania’s health systems, which are currently dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases that have left some practicing waiting room medicine, could benefit from the bipartisan task force’s expertise.
“As the number of COVID-19 cases and number of hospitalized patients in every county of the Commonwealth continue to rise, we are hearing from many hospitals, health systems and constituents who are concerned,” the letter said. “Today, we are writing to respectfully request from you the reconvening of the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force so that we may again collaborate on the best mechanisms for sharing information and communicating solutions expediently with the entire General Assembly and our hospitals, health systems and constituents.”
In a follow-up letter on Friday afternoon, Wolf told the lawmakers that the “Task Force has never ceased, as we most recently met just over two weeks ago in a continued effort to both work together and provide information to the General Assembly on vaccine efforts and preparedness,” Wolf said in an answering letter to the GOP lawmakers. “Rest assured, I have no plans to dissolve the Task Force anytime soon.”
Wolf noted that the administration also has been holding regional meetings with hospital systems and EMS providers to help them address the surge.
“The fact is, unvaccinated individuals continue to drive this surge upon our health systems, and continuing to encourage Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated will reduce this pressure,” Wolf wrote. “The number one thing that the members can do right now to help our hospitals is to urge all eligible constituents to get vaccinated.”
The administration created the task force in February, enlisting Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the state House and Senate, as a way to “share vaccine information and communicate issues and solutions expediently on behalf of and to the broader General Assembly.”
Its creation came as the Democratic administration weathered steady Republican criticism that it was bypassing the General Assembly on most critical matters of pandemic management and policy.
The task force remained active throughout most of 2021. In July, the panel urged lawmakers of both parties to promote the COVID-19 vaccine to their constituents. In March, the panel drew headlines as it announced a targeted vaccine rollout that prioritized cops, firefighters, and other emergency service workers.
In their Friday letter, the GOP lawmakers stressed the success of the task force, and said it could continue that good work.
“The Task Force was created ten months ago today, February 9, 2021,” the lawmakers wrote. “We can agree that during that time our Commonwealth experienced improvements in many areas, including the vaccine rollout. We remain confident that the Task Force will prove to be successful once again.”
In his answering letter, Wolf joined in the sentiment, writing “Let’s keep working together to make sure Pennsylvanians get the vaccine.”
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