Pa. House Speaker Turzai hammered for dubious COVID-19 Twitter post | Monday Morning Coffee

May 11, 2020 7:17 am

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (“Friends of Mike Turzai” / WikiMedia Commons)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Retiring Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, found himself playing defense this weekend for tweeting the percentage of Pennsylvanians with underlying conditions who died of COVID-19. It comes as Republicans who control the General Assembly are making a ramming-speed push to reopen the state.

Through midday Sunday, 3,707 state residents have lost their lives to the illness, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data.

Speaking to HuffPostTurzai’s chief of staff, Neal Lesher, said the suburban Pittsburgh Republican was “simply reporting public health data that the Pennsylvania Department of Health should be reporting to the public, but is not.”

Lesher added that the data “exposes the vulnerability of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable population in nursing homes, personal care facilities, and assisted living facilities,” and for “anyone to suggest that the Speaker does not care about our vulnerable populations is either playing politics or not paying attention to what’s going on.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf delivers his sixth budget address to a joint session of the general assembly inside the House of Representatives chamber at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Friday, December 13, 2019 (Photo from Commonwealth Media Services).

Yes, it’s true, as HuffPost notes, Turzai is the sponsor of legislation that includes extra protections for nursing homes, which have turned into Ground Zero for COVID-19 fatalities in the state.

But those of us who have been paying attention, as Lesher suggests, have also noticed the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s haste to undo the Wolf administration’s stay at home orders — one of which netted a gubernatorial veto. Now, counties that aren’t out of the red zone have decided they’re going to reopen on their own — case and death counts be damned.

Residents of the Twitterverse took umbrage at Turzai’s comments, noting that many people have the underlying conditions listed in Turzai’s tweet, and wondered if the self-professed party of life somehow found them expendable.



And it gets even better:
On Saturday night, as if daring fate to make hundreds, yes, hundreds, of people sick, state Rep. Mike JonesR-York, whose legislative bio includes exactly zero public health expertise, held a reopening rally at a York County banquet hall, where mask-less people sat next to each other in violation of social distancing protocols, embraced, and shook hands.

The York Daily Record put the size of the crowd at more than150 people. Sharp-eyed reporter Scott Fisher noted that the there was a bird flying over the head of the rally goers, prompting one Facebook wag to wonder if it was a vulture.

“I think we got Wolf on the ropes,” he said, according to the York Daily Record. “The last 48 hours has been extremely encouraging. It’s just like a boxing match. It’s time to knock him out. Because when you call his bluff and you fight, they cave. They don’t have the horses. They don’t have the soldiers. They don’t have the guts. … The bark is way, way worse than the bite.”

Actually, one could credibly make the argument that dying on a ventilator, which is the risk that Jones and his fellow rally-goers just exposed themselves to, is far worse than a gubernatorial tongue-lashing. But just like Jones, I’m not a doctor.

Many protesters at the state Capitol focused their ire on Gov. Tom Wolf as the author of the state’s reaction to COVID-19. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

And for the reopening nitwits, I’ll pose the same question I posed on Twitter last week: Which of your family members are you willing to put at risk so that the wheels of capitalism can start grinding again? Your daughter? Your son?  A sibling? A spouse? A parent?

Yes, Pennsylvania has to reopen. And that’s happening now: Gradually and slowly, as the case counts dictate.

Sunday was Mother’s Day. And tens of thousands of people across the country woke up to a day where a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a wife, or a sister wasn’t there. And maybe some of them had underlying conditions. That doesn’t make that loss any easier to bear.

Yes, it’s an American tragedy jobless rates at at their highest since the Great Depression.

And, yes, those who are struggling need every measure of assistance that government can deliver to them and every ounce of support from the nation. But putting even one life at risk a moment before it’s necessary is not only criminally stupid, it compounds the tragedy, and it insults the memory of the dead.

And it guarantees another Mother’s Day with fewer mothers. One more empty spot at the table. One more grieving family.

Is it worth it? Really?

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Pa.’s rape kit backlog has seen a sharp reductionAssociate Editor Cassie Miller crunches the data in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

Lancaster Correspondent Lauren Manelius catches up with a group of Reading-based volunteers who have been working to get PPE into the hands of those who need it.

States Newsroom National Correspondent Jacob Fischler considers whether the lessons of the Great Depression can help states avoid budget debacles in 2020.

In Philadelphia, members of the city’s Black clergy have been encouraging residents to vote by mail in the June 2 primary, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Dick Polman says refusing to wear a mask is about the most un-American thing to do right now.

A line of cars drives up North Street in Harrisburg, a few blocks from the state Capitol building, during a protest of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts say stay-at-home orders shouldn’t lift until the state has a robust plan for testing and contact tracing. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

In the rush to reopen, some Pa. counties are pushing to exclude nursing home data. Experts say that’s the wrong call, Spotlight PA reports.
Pittsburgh City Paper’s Ryan Deto breaks down what the state’s “yellow phase” really means.
PennLive looks at the future of the restaurant industry as the lockdown eases (paywall).
You can add Schuylkill County to the list of Pennsylvania counties that are now moving on their own to ease social distancing restrictions, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

Thirty-five years on, Philadelphia must apologize for the MOVE bombing, former Mayor Wilson Goode says, according to WHYY-FM reports.
Pa. workers with preexisting conditions are sweating a call back to work, the PA Post reports.
Hospice care is continuing — but behind PPE, reports.
Roll Call looks at what’s at stake as the U.S. Supreme Court takes up a case dealing with congressional subpoena power this week.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 2 p.m. today. And there’s a full slate of committee action.
May 11, 2020

    Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), 11:00AM
    Senate Chamber  (LIVE STREAMED), Off the Floor

Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to our old friend Shelly Stallsmith, currently of the York Daily Record, and one of the kindest souls we know. Congrats and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
 lead vocalist Bono (born Paul Hewson) turned 60 on Sunday. It’s so awfully hard to pick the greatest song from the legendary Irish rock band. So here’s a whole playlist of U2 goodness to power you through your Monday.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link. looks 
at three decades’ worth of top rookie defensemen since 1990.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.