Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) said enough data shows the greatest risk from the coronavirus is pointed at the state’s seniors, and added he believes the numbers illustrate why a wider economic reopening can begin safely and soon.
“The reality is that there’s a significant part of the population that aren’t at risk for hospitalization or death and we need to focus in on these senior settings and should have been focusing in on these senior settings,” Turzai said on “Philadelphia’s Morning Answer with Chris Stigall.”
Turzai’s comments give additional political support to two Democrat-controlled counties in the Delaware Valley.
Bucks and Delaware counties have asked Gov. Tom Wolf to pay special attention to infection rates in nursing homes in their areas when deciding if the counties can progress from the “red” lockdown phase to the “yellow” hybrid phase of reopening.
The counties argue that because the virus is significantly less lethal to those under 60, numerous types of businesses can be reopened without risking a spike in fatalities or hospitalizations. And with the knowledge that the risk is elevated for the elderly in long-term care facilities, more resources should be diverted to those locations instead.
Bucks County in particular had asked Wolf to offer a potential date for a yellow reopening, but the county only received a promise of more frequent communication from the governor’s office.
“I would just say the metrics he’s using are not that relevant and he has not adhered to his metrics,” Turzai said.
Those remarks appeared to be a reference to Beaver County’s move to the yellow phase after officials complained, and Wolf was forced to say his decision was not political.
Turzai also promoted legislation by Republicans, Senate Bill 327, which would give counties more control over reopening their economies as long as they follow safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By this Friday, 49 counties will have progressed to yellow, while 18 counties will still be in the red phase — most of them in the southeast.
Meanwhile, Wolf and a member of his team sidestepped questions on the unfolding crisis at nursing homes — especially those in the Delaware Valley — at a Monday news conference.
“Families with loved ones in nursing homes are outraged at a lack of preparedness experienced in so many facilities in the Delaware Valley,” a question began to Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) Director Randy Padfield. “They were complaining to us two months ago about conditions. What should the state have done better?
“The challenge is that no two nursing homes or long-term care facilities are created equal,” Padfield said. “So, trying to generalize [a response] against a number of them is very difficult.”
Wolf was asked about a call by Republican Rep. Scott Perry (PA-10) for a federal investigation of the governor’s handling of the nursing home crisis.
The governor said those criticisms were part of the “nature of democracy, and I welcome those criticisms,” but did not offer any rationale or breakdown of the administration’s actions.
More than 80 percent or more of all COVID-19 related fatalities in Delaware Valley counties are located in nursing homes or long-term care facilities, according to state data available Monday.
The percentage of deaths in nursing homes in each of the four counties is well above the statewide average which has hovered around 70 percent.
Two other incidents in May put additional pressure on the Wolf administration in regards to nursing homes and the COVID-19 crisis.
Last week, Health Secretary Rachel Levine revealed she moved her mother out of a long-term care facility and into a motel as the infection rate began to accelerate in the state.
Also, an investigative report from Spotlight PA said that the Wolf administration had fashioned a “robust and aggressive” plan to protect nursing home patients, but then failed to carry out those plans.