Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday told Pennsylvanians that the state’s school and business closings, and his stay-at-home order, were working to contain the spread of COVID-19, and asked for citizens to stay the course by following the order.
“By doing nothin’, we are doing something truly extraordinary,” Wolf said during a brief video address.
The speech caps an optimistic turn for both Wolf and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine’s rhetoric around the pandemic, when they had for weeks been warning of the worst.
But it also comes as Republican leaders in the General Assembly have given their starkest assurance that they will vote to undo parts of his social distancing guidelines, saying they are “extremely flawed.”
As of midday Monday, health officials had confirmed 24,199 cases of the coronavirus in the state, while 524 people have died in the pandemic.
Over the past few days, new confirmed cases have somewhat declined, leading Levine to observe Monday that “social distancing works.”
According to projections from the University of Washington, Pennsylvania will use peak resources addressing the virus on April 16.
While the peak is close at hand by that measure, Wolf said his administration was still developing an exact matrix to know “when we achieve victory” over the disease.
But until then, Wolf said he was looking for a decrease in new cases; more medical equipment for treatment; more protective gear for healthcare professionals, and plentiful testing of who has the coronavirus, and who is immune, before he would begin lifting social distancing policies.
“We will need to satisfy ourselves that the likely march of this disease will not outstrip our ability to treat people with the virus,” Wolf said.
In the meantime, he acknowledged the sacrifices Pennsylvanians faced missing out on religious ceremonies, family celebrations, work and school due to his own shutdown orders, and asked that they keep up the effort.
“We cannot afford to be complacent, but we need to recognize the fact that we will get through this,” Wolf said.
Overall, Wolf offered no concrete timeline for when he would scale back the social distancing measures. He also cautioned that the new normal, after he scales back closures, could still look different as the state stockpiles more health resources and a vaccine is mass produced.
The governor, a Democrat, has been subject to Republican and business group criticisms for his broad shutdowns, ordered March 19, to contain the virus. They cite a lack of transparency and consistency in who can stay open, and who cannot, during the pandemic.
Those criticisms could come to fore this week in the General Assembly, where Republican leadership have signaled they will vote to change Wolf’s business shutdown standards.
“We must keep our communities safe while also helping workers get back to their jobs,” Senate GOP leadership said in a statement Monday night. “The decisions of how to successfully implement plans to re-open our economy will rest with the legislature of Pennsylvania and not with liberal governors from other states.”
Wolf made no reference to the potential political battle in the address, which also followed one of the governors’ first hints of an end game, when he joined a coalition of governors to coordinate business openings in the northeastern United States.