Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) said he believes the commonwealth’s economy should reopen from the coronavirus shutdown quicker than planned, but he included a crucial caveat for the Delaware Valley area.
“I think we need to remember the reason we closed the economy in the first place, because that’s an absolutely stunning and unprecedented move,” Toomey said on 1210 WPHT’s The Dom Giordano Program. “The reason we did it was because we feared that if we didn’t do that, the disease might spread so rapidly and infect so many people and cause so much acute illness that we would overwhelm our hospital systems.
“I think it’s important to remember that because that would have been an absolutely catastrophic result — so disastrous that we couldn’t risk it, and so I understand why governors across the country, including ours, decided we need to shut down the economy to head off that risk,” he said.
“The great news is, it’s now clear that we are not going to overwhelm our hospital system — certainly not a chance outside the southeast where the concentration of this illness is greater,” Toomey said. “I don’t think we’re going to overwhelm our southeast hospitals. But I acknowledge the frequency of the disease is greater in the southeast.”
Days after Gov. Tom Wolf (D) delineated his plan to reopen Pennsylvania’s economy, Toomey released his own proposal. Both involve phasing in parts of the economy as certain milestones are met, but Toomey’s plan is more aggressive than Wolf’s.
Some political observers say Toomey releasing his own reopening plan shows his future ambitions.
“The fact that Senator Toomey is considering running for governor is a poorly kept secret,” Charlie Gerow, a Republican analyst in Harrisburg, told Delaware Valley Journal. “The announcement of his plan to reopen Pennsylvania further indicates that he isn’t trying to keep it secret. In my mind, Pat Toomey is the best Republican candidate for governor [in 2022] if he chooses to run. I know a lot of other Republicans share that opinion.”
Toomey said later in the interview the state has “literally thousands of miles” where there are no cases and no deaths, “and the hospitals are virtually empty because they can’t do elective procedures and they don’t have any COVID patients.”
In the second half of March, Pennsylvania was frequently a national leader in unemployment due to the coronavirus crisis, with the Delaware Valley counties bearing a large share of that burden.
Toomey told Giordano he wants to consider a regional or county-by-county reopening by comparing infection rates to that region’s hospital capacity. Areas that are reopened would still be expected to follow any guidelines in place from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Toomey declined to take any sharp political shots at Wolf.
“I will give credit to Gov. Wolf,” Toomey said. “He takes my calls. We discuss this. He knows what my thoughts are. He agrees with some. He disagrees with others. But I think it’s constructive for him to hear a message about the importance of getting back to work where and when we can.”
Updated figures from the state Monday morning showed the following infection numbers and deaths for the Delaware Valley counties:
- Bucks 2,585 / 148
- Chester 1,214 / 81
- Delaware 3,361 / 142
- Montgomery 3,817 / 232
Generally speaking, Gov. Wolf has said rural parts of Pennsylvania would likely open sooner. Last week he said, “the southeastern part of the state will be among the last places to reopen.”
In the meantime, Wolf did move to allow construction to resume in the state on May 1, making that start date a week earlier than originally planned.
But construction leaders in the Delaware Valley are still uncertain how open the four-county region will be because of the higher infection numbers compared to the rest of the state.