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Pennsylvania counties rebelling against Gov. Tom Wolf's stay-at-home order and will reopen

Counties are allowing businesses to reopen and not enforcing orders that violate constitutional rights.

Mark Makela/Getty Images

Several Pennsylvania elected officials are rebelling against Gov. Tom Wolf's shelter-in-place order. Some counties will allow businesses to reopen, while others have said they will refuse to enforce any order that violates constitutional rights.

On March 19, Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown of all "non-life sustaining businesses." On Friday, Wolf announced that 13 Pennsylvania counties could move to the yellow phase of reopening on May 15. There were 24 counties allowed to enter the yellow phase of the coronavirus reopening on May 8, all in the western part of the state.

The yellow phase allows retail, manufacturing, and offices to open, but there are strict guidelines as far as sanitation and limiting gathering to 25 people or less. The yellow phase does not allow schools, gyms, or beauty salons to reopen.

While these 37 Pennsylvania counties will be allowed to reopen partially, the other 30 counties are in the red phase until June 4. The red phase only allows essential businesses to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wolf said, "A target goal for reopening has been set at having fewer than 50 new confirmed cases per 100,000 population reported to the department in the previous 14 days."

Many political leaders of counties in central Pennsylvania are not happy that they were not added to the yellow phase starting next week. Some of the counties plan to open up and defy Wolf's state-mandated stay-at-home order.

Officials from Adams and York counties requested that Wolf allow them to transition to the yellow phase on May 15. On Friday night, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday announced that his office "will not prosecute any criminal citations for alleged violations of the [Governor and Secretary's] orders and regulations … concerning the operation of non-life-sustaining businesses."

"According to all previously identified measurables made by you and your Secretary of Health, York County falls well within all indices and metrics," York County officials said.

In Adams County, there have been 154 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths.

Perry County officials released a letter on Thursday questioning why they were not allowed to reopen with so few COVID-19 cases.

"It is beyond comprehension why Perry County, which had fewer than 40 cases of COVID-19 altogether, was not selected for reopening with the first counties May 8," the letter read. "It is time to rectify this error and allow our business people to get back to work if they choose."

Politicians from Pennsylvania counties told the Democratic governor that they would reopen regardless if they were in the yellow or red phase.

Jeff Haste, Chairman of the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners, said in an open letter that "enough is enough." Haste instructed Wolf to "open the state and return our Commonwealth to the people (as prescribed by our Constitution) and not run it as a dictatorship."

"Here in Dauphin County, 192 (25%) of the 764 cases are in nursing homes, while 24 (65%) of our coronavirus deaths are in nursing homes," Haste wrote. "If you remove the nursing home cases from the equation, 0.2% of the county's general population has tested positive. Not 20%, not 2%, but 0.2%."

Dauphin County is home to the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Lebanon County officials sent a letter to Wolf informing him that they were transitioning to the yellow phase on May 15, with or without his approval.

"As elected officials of Lebanon County, this letter serves to inform you of our intention to move from the Red Phase to the Yellow Phase of your COVID- 19 Phased Reopening Plan, effective May 15, 2020," the letter read.

"Lebanon County has met the requirement of your original Stay-at-Home order, which was to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 outbreak and allow hospitals the time to gear up for COVID-19 patients," the letter from Lebanon County officials read. "The residents of our county have heeded your instructions to practice social distancing and other mitigation efforts, and as a result our local healthcare facilities do not lack the capacity to effectively treat these patients going forward."

The letter was signed by nine elected officials, all of which are Republicans. County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, who is a Democrat, did not sign the letter.

As of Friday, Lebanon County reported 797 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 16 deaths.

Cumberland County's Sheriff Ronny Anderson said his office would not enforce any order that "violates our Constitutional rights."

"The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office will honor our solemn oath to Support, Obey and Defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth," Anderson wrote on the office's Facebook page. "Our Office will stand with the citizens in defense of all of our Constitutional rights! Our Office will not be enforcing any 'order' that violates our Constitutional rights. Sheriff Anderson has stated 'I have no intentions in turning local business owners into criminals.'"

Wolf noted that more restrictions could be added if COVID-19 cases rise.

"Every contact between two people is a new link in the chain of potential transmission. And if the new case count begins to climb in one area, restrictions will need to be imposed to prevent local medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed," Wolf said during a news briefing on Friday. "So, Pennsylvanians should continue to make good choices."

Pennsylvania has the sixth-most confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. with over 57,000, and the fifth-most deaths, 3,717.

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