Unlike Trump, Pa.’s Wolf, governors in no rush to reopen their states | Thursday Morning Coffee

March 26, 2020 7:07 am

Gov. Tom Wolf discusses how his administration is helping Pennsylvania businesses get through the COVID-19 pandemic (screen capture)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

If you needed another reminder of the profound difference in messaging between state governors and the Trump White House, then you didn’t need to look much further than the online news conference that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf held Wednesday.

Twenty-four hours after Trump brazenly disregarded the advice of actual scientists and public health experts with his announcement that he’d like to scrap social distancing requirements and reopen the country by Easter — even as COVID-19 infections grow nationwide — Wolf went the other way, announcing that he was putting two more counties under a stay-at-home order as infections soared past 1,000 confirmed cases.

And nor was he in any hurry Wednesday to follow Trump’s lead. Wolf deferred politely when he asked whether he’d defy the White House if it sent Americans back to work, saying he’s always had a “nice working relationship” with the federal government.

But Wolf’s intent was made clear when he said he was concentrating on giving the state the time it needed to contain the pandemic.

So, thanks, but no thanks, Mr. President.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks to journalists during an online briefing on Thursday, 3/19/20 about the latest on the COVID-19 outbreak in the Keystone State (Screen Capture).

Both Wolf, and state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine have been a calming presence in daily briefings, offering reassurances and facts, where Trump has stuck to his usual diet of bluster, blatant untruths, and bullying.

Trump’s serial fabrications, soberly fact-checked on the fly by America’s new family physician, infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, have come to pose such a threat to public health that some media critics have cautioned networks against airing his remarks in real time.

That danger was reinforced by the death of an Arizona man after Trump wrongly touted the medical form of chloroquine as a possible treatment for the virus. The Arizona man took chloroquine phosphate, a chemical typically used to clean fish tanks, the BBC reported.

In the absence of that leadership up top, and the White House’s insistence on subcontracting the heavy lifting of fighting the pandemic to the states by refusing to fully invoke the Defense Production Act, it’s been up to governors such as Wolf, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, and Washington’s Jay Inslee to step into the breach.

NEW YORK, NY – MARCH 24: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City. New York City has about a third of the nation’s confirmed coronavirus cases, making it the center of the outbreak in the United States. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

Some television pundits have taken to calling Cuomo, whose briefings are too Noo Yahwk for words, “America’s Governor.” It’s a tad hyperbolic, but not far from wrong. For his part, Cuomo has said he’s acting as he always does — just on a grander stage.

“You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” Cuomo recently grumbled about a federal government shipment to New York, the New York Times reported. “What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” he said later. “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

With his own plainspoken style, Cuomo has provided vivid illustration of the massive challenges that states face in trying to contain the pandemic. That Cuomo is a fellow New Yorker, and viewed as a rival for the nation’s attention, has clearly gotten under Trump’s skin.

“We are working very, very hard for the people of New York,” Trump said after Cuomo’s blunt remarks about the ventilators, the Times reported. “We are working a lot with him. Then I watch him on this show complaining.”

In fact, a new poll by the business website Business Insider shows that Americans trust Fauci and Cuomo more than they do Trump when it comes to fighting the illness.

And it’s not only a Democratic phenomenon. Republican governors, such as Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Mike DeWine in Ohio, and Larry Hogan in Maryland, have also stepped up, according to, a project of the Pew Center on the States.

“I do think that the governors moved out more efficiently than the federal government did, particularly the president and the administration,” Bob Griffin, dean of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the State University of New York Albany told Stateline. “Particularly Illinois and New York, and [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom did a decent job in California. Look at what you see even from Alabama, Washington — the states have taken the lead.”

So if Trump does carry through with his brash decision to reopen the nation on Easter, expecting the resurrection of the country’s economic fortunes, don’t be surprised to see WolfCuomo and other governors trying to roll the rock back into place as they seek to protect their own residents.

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

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 and Elizabeth Hardison run down a very busy day in the Capitol that saw lawmakers in the state House and Senate, most voting remotely, approve a package of COVID-19 related relief bills.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $60 million loan program aimed at helping small businesses weather the COVID-19 shutdown. Associate Editor Cassie Miller has the details on that, as well as the latest numbers statewide on the pandemic.

And in this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketMiller has the report card on Pennsylvania’s social distancing efforts.

Pittsburgh Correspondent Kim Lyons brings you the story of Pittsburgh artists who came together to form a relief fund to help each other get through the pandemic.

Officials in Philly are considering forcibly quarantining people who get infected, but refuse care, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

And in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Council is considering legislation that could allow for the release of more inmates at the Allegheny County Jail, our partners at the Pittsburgh Current report.

In non-virus news, the anti-gun violence Brady PAC says it’s getting involved in two, very different Pennsylvania congressional contests.

And on our Commentary Page, authors contributing a pair of pieces to our ongoing #PennForward series take two, very different stands. First up, a gas industry trade group says the state doesn’t need to get involved in a regional effort to reduce greenhouse emissions. And this year without a winter is a stark reminder of the reality of climate change, opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz writes.

Pipeline construction has become a flashpoint between state environmentalists and the natural gas industry. (Flickr)

Despite the COVID-19 shutdown, state officials allowed construction to continue on the Mariner East pipeline, the Inquirer reports.
PennLive explains how ‘deep cleaning’ works.
An Allegheny County woman who died of COVID-19 refused to go the hospital because she was worried about the bills, the Post-Gazette reports.
The Morning Call has the latest on the pandemic in the Lehigh Valley.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Philadelphia has seen its first COVID-19 fatalityWHYY-FM reports.
Officials in York have issued their first citation against a city business that failed to comply with the state’s shutdown order, the PA Post reports. looks at how states, cities are learning how to govern without being able to meet in person.
The U.S. House will vote Friday on the massive economic stimulus bill that passed the Senate overnight on Wednesday, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
Time TBA:
 Daily COVID-19 Briefing

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Nikkilia Lu, Pennsylvania director of the State Innovation Network, and to Morning Call data guy Gene Ordway, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day — at a safe distance and with clean hands.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a very appropriate tune from Cold War Kids. It’s ‘Can We Hang On?

Thursday’s Gratuitous History Fact.
Today in 1977, the Hall & Oates classic “Rich Girl,” goes #1 in the Billboard chart. It will be the first of six #1 hits for the Philly-based duo.

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.