Following Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf’s May 8 announcement that Greene, Fayette and Washington counties would be among the next 13 counties allowed to segue from a red to a yellow reopening designation – which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today – local and state officials reacted to the news.
Greene County Commission Chairman Mike Belding said he feels the county’s upgrade to yellow designation is “not a great leap” for area businesses.
“Clearly, the news that Greene is in the yellow designation does not significantly change the terrible impact that has terribly impacted our small businesses here,” he said. “I am not against the color-coded system as I am that the state has made arbitrary decisions since the beginning about what businesses should be allowed to be open, what is considered ‘essential’ and ‘nonessential. It’s been frustrating.”
Belding said the belief that constituents are having their constitutional rights violated, experiencing loss of opportunities and being treated unfairly is why Greene commissioners are joining other county officials in filing a lawsuit against the state.
“We are losing businesses every day, and our government needs to hear our voices,” he said. “We should have been from day one getting early and informative data from the state and our government should have been asking counties such as ours for data or information input. But no. Any information that we have received has been late, conflicting and confusing.”
Belding said his opinion is that the state government is “winging it.”
“We’ve asked the government’s office, ‘What criteria determines that a county is able to move from red to yellow, from yellow to green?’ Is the decision data driven or is based on lapsed time? We can’t seem to get an answer. We’re told an actual plan hasn’t been officially put in place. Why not? We are doing our best in helping our constituents, but we are on the wrong side of the protection scale. It’s unbalanced.”
Belding said residents are strongly cautioned to adhere to health and safety guidelines when the yellow designation becomes official today.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, said she was pleased that Wolf listened to her concerns about not being included in the initial list of counties upgraded to yellow on May 1 as well as her encouragement to take another close look at the region.
“With (the May 8) announcement, this means that many businesses which were previously closed or whose operations were significantly limited will now be able to reopen, provided they follow the health and social-distancing guidelines,” Snyder said. “The last thing we want to do is to go back to red, so it’s vital that each one of us follows the necessary precautions to protect each other as we continue to move forward toward the green designation.”
Meanwhile, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-46, said on May 8 that although the upgrade to yellow does not solve the severe problems affecting numerous local communities, she appreciates Wolf listening to state and local officials in regards to upgrading most of the Southwestern Pennsylvania counties.
“I am thankful that Gov. Wolf appears to be listening and moving in a more positive direction,” she said. “I (previously) sent the governor a letter to encourage this move, and I am hopeful that he continues to listen to the advice of lawmakers and allows more businesses to open safely as soon as possible.
“For the sake of the millions of Pennsylvanians who are not collecting a paycheck right now, we cannot delay any longer,” she said.
She strongly stated that plans to reopen Pennsylvania must evolve.
“We cannot remain shackled to a plan that still excludes entire swaths of the local economy that could function safely with the guidance of national experts,” she said. “I strongly urge the governor to join us in charting a better path forward that allows more Pennsylvanians to get back to work safely and responsibly. We do not have to choose between protecting lives and livelihoods.
“Those two goals are not mutually exclusive,” she asserted. “We can and should do both.”
Talking to the Messenger on May 11, Bartolotta added that she does not understand why counties upgraded to yellow had to wait until May 15 for the changes to occur.
“I contacted the governor’s office and asked, ‘Why? Why wait another week? Why can’t the designated counties reopen Monday? Our people and their businesses are withering on the vine. Every day that goes by is another day where West Virginia is welcoming our people with open arms to spend money. It is ludicrous. Ridiculous. We need to take Pennsylvania back.”
Counties in the yellow designation must follow these restrictions:
n Telework must continue where allowed and feasible;
n Businesses with in-person operations must follow business and building safety orders;
n Childcare facilities open must comply with state guidelines;
n Congregate care and prison restrictions remain in place; and
n Schools will remain closed for in-person instruction.
n Stay-at-home order lifted for aggressive mitigation;
n Large gatherings of more than 25 people are prohibited;
n In-person retail is allowed, curbside and delivery preferable;
n Indoor recreation, health and wellness businesses and personal care services (such as spas, hair and nail salons, gyms and entities that provide massage therapy) and entertainment facilities (including casinos and theaters) remain closed; and
n Restaurants and bars are limited to carry-out and delivery only.