Spread out across South Central Pennsylvania and down to Washington D.C., two of Pennsylvania's leading Republican lawmakers were joined by a couple of struggling local business owners, regional health experts, and a county commissioner to discuss the best ways to move Pennsylvania forward and reopen its economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) and Representative Lloyd Smucker (R-PA 13) led the roundtable discussion on YouTube on Thursday, joined by Lancaster County Chairman Commissioner Josh Parsons, Penn State Health CEO Steve Massini, Mountz Jewelers Co-Owner Tonia Ulsh, and Reverend Georgette Morgan-Thomas, who runs a hat company in Philadelphia.
"It’s been my view, for some time now, that Pennsylvania is ready to reopen," Senator Toomey said during the roundtable. "We have to recognize every day we tell small business owners that you cannot earn a livelihood, that you are forbidden from doing business, that is a huge, huge cost that we're paying."
Toomey and Smucker focused on the decreasing number of daily cases in the commonwealth, and growing amounts of hospital capacity as proof Pennsylvanians are flattening the curve of the virus. Massini, at one point, told the hosts of 750 hospital beds in the Penn State Health network, only 23 were currently being used by COVID-19 patients.
"As of this morning, we have successfully treated and released more than 175 confirmed COVID-19 patients from our hospitals in Hershey and Reading," Massini said.
Smucker later asked, "Do you agree the initial goal in closing the economy was to flatten the curve?" Massini responded, "Absolutely, it was so hospitals wouldn't be overwhelmed."
Massini then acknowledged Pennsylvania has flattened the curve of COVID-19.
Democrats, however, say the state is not yet ready to fully re-open. As of Thursday, 37 counties had been moved from red-to-yellow in Governor Tom Wolf's gradual reopening plan. Those counties in northwest and southwest PA are given further leniency to re-open businesses originally considered non-essential.
Some counties though, including most in South Central PA, pushed back against the Wolf administration, threatening to enter the "yellow" phase on their own without the governor's permission. This week, Governor Wolf responded by threatening to withhold federal funds from the counties which defy his orders.
"They need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act," Wolf said Monday. "The funding set aside for this crisis will go to the folks who are doing their part to stop the spread of [COVID-19]."
Toomey's Pennsylvania Senate colleague, Democrat Bob Casey, responded to the roundtable with a statement to FOX43.
"We all share the goal of re-opening our economy and getting people back to work as soon as we reasonably can. I support the approach outlined by Governor Wolf, which is based on safety and science and consistent with the guidance of leading public health experts.
A rushed, premature re-opening would risk undoing the progress Pennsylvania has made in the last two months, and we can’t afford that. The fastest way to get our economy moving again, and get people back to work, is to defeat this virus," Casey wrote.