Perry County not happy about being in ‘red’ zone, but won’t bolt for yellow

While some counties in Pennsylvania may push forward against the state’s guidelines and try to reopen business and public life later this week, Perry County isn’t one of them.

Perry County commissioners discussed the possibility at a meeting Monday morning and decided to stick with Gov. Wolf’s phased-in plan, which leaves Perry County in a red zone, at least for now.

The Perry County commissioners, through their local legislators, had been lobbying Gov. Tom Wolf’s office in the hopes of getting a designation of yellow, which would remove the stay-at-home order and allow non-life-sustaining businesses to open, but the county remained red in the governor’s latest announcement, along with all the surrounding counties.

The commissioners had tentatively made plans to try to bring back furloughed county employees, thinking they would be in the yellow by now. Instead, they aren’t sure when they will get to move to yellow.

“We are as disappointed as any other citizen in Perry County,” said Commissioner Gary Eby. “We know this isn’t a popular decision. But that’s the position for the benefit of all citizens of the county.”

Perry County commissioners made the decision to honor the governor’s plan for reopening about one hour before Wolf announced several consequences that could face counties that rebelled.

Wolf said counties that deserted the state’s efforts could lose discretionary funding from the Cares Act, that flows through the state to help deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Businesses also could be at risk of losing liquor licenses or other licenses granted by the state and run afoul of insurance policies.

Eby said the commissioners were on board with Wolf’s plan before he revealed the repercussions, but commissioners were aware of the consequences and did not believe risking funding for the county would be prudent.

“This is not the time to draw lines in the sand,” Eby said. “I think we’re this close to opening.”

But opening too soon, and against the state’s directive, would put Perry County as yellow in the middle of a bunch of other red counties. It wouldn’t make sense and wouldn’t send the right message, Eby said, especially as local emergency workers still face shortages of vital supplies.

The most compelling argument to stay on board provided by the state is the fact that state officials are looking at the “big picture,” Eby said, and their decisions are informed by health professionals.

“We’re all in this together,” Eby said. “Now’s not the time to split our horses. We want to keep it together so we can open up the schools in the fall.

“If we trip and slip up this reopening, we could be facing one million kids not getting an education in the fall,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a situation we want to be in. We need to think beyond next week.”

Other county leaders will have to decide what’s in their residents best interests, Eby said. The commissioners in the area work together very well, Eby said, noting they had conversations with commissioners from other counties as they mulled their decision.

“For right now, in an ever-changing climate, we have to stand by the governor’s recommendation,” he said, “and his order is that we remain red. We want to continue to work with our state leaders to get this resolved.”

“No one wants to see this,” he said. “But we can’t wave a magic wand and make (the virus) go away.”

Cumberland County commissioners also announced Monday they would stay the course with the state map, which keeps them in red status, but Dauphin County commissioners said Friday they were planning to go their own way.

Dauphin County Chairman Jeff Haste said Monday he “supports a balanced approach to reopening, allowing businesses and communities to reopen safely and under the CDC and DOH guidelines.”

The Lancaster County Commission Chair on Monday confirmed to PennLive that he wants to unilaterally move the county into a yellow phase although he provided no date or formal plans. The county has a population greater than 500,000, so it will get Cares Act funding directly from the federal government and not through the state.

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Post time: May-20-2020