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Two commissioners call decision to keep Dauphin in red 'political payback'; Levine says county wasn't close to moving to yellow

Jeff Haste and Mike Pries
Jeff Haste and Mike Pries

Dauphin County Commissioners Jeff Haste and Mike Pries called into question Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision and state Department of Health data and metrics for reopening counties after the county was not moved into the yellow phase in Wolf’s announcement of 12 counties Friday.

The commissioners are seriously concerned about the impact on Dauphin County businesses that remain closed under the governor’s stay-at-home order, according to a press release.

“The governor’s decision today to keep Dauphin, Lebanon and Lancaster counties shut down while neighboring counties begin to reopen is nothing more than political payback,” said Haste, who chairs the board of commissioners. “Rather than listen to the people of Pennsylvania, he pits groups of people against each other and puts out misleading data to back up his cause. We’ve heard from hundreds of residents and business owners that the time to reopen is now.”

Haste and Pries are both Republicans. Wolf is a Democrat. Wolf said Friday that "politics has nothing to do with this" as far as decisions about moving counties to the yellow phase.

Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Friday that Dauphin County was not close to moving into the yellow phase.

“The same metrics that we looked at in terms of Beaver County, which had decreasing rates of infection, did not show positive results in terms of Dauphin County. Dauphin County still has significant rates of infection as well as evidence of community transmission and spread of COVID-19. In fact, in the last week actually, the numbers have gone up somewhat,” she said.

Beaver County is one of the counties Wolf said will move into the yellow phase next Friday, May 22.

“It’s hard for me to predict when a county will be ready,” she said, adding that Dauphin County residents need to practice all the social distancing guidelines that are in place under the stay-at-home order and go out only when absolutely necessary.

Haste said Dauphin County has worked tirelessly to prioritize testing, as the state has encouraged.

According DOH data available earlier this week, Cumberland County tested a total of 3,094 individuals, while Dauphin County tested a total of 7,594 – or 2.45 times more than Cumberland.

A breakdown of those tested is as follows:

• Cumberland tested 3,094. Of this total, 477, or 15 percent, tested positive. A total of 2,617, or 85 percent, tested negative. 

• Dauphin County tested 7,594. Of this total, 895, or 12 percent, tested positive. A total of 6,699, 88 percent, tested negative — three points better than Cumberland County, according to the press release. 

“Based on these figures, Dauphin County has performed two-and-a-half times as many tests as Cumberland County and, it seems, is being punished for it,” said Haste.

The press release said the breakdown of available ventilators, according to the DOH, is:

• Cumberland County, total of 80; 7 (9 percent) are being used for COVID-19; 21 (26 percent) for non-COVID-19; 52 (64 percent) are available. 

• Dauphin County total of 140; 3, (2 percent) are being used for COVID-19; 53, (38 percent) are non-COVID-19; 84 (60 percent) are available.  

 The number of deaths from COVID-19 were as follows Thursday:

Cumberland, a total of 37, or 1 in every 6,758 citizens.

• Dauphin, a total of 40, or 1 in every 6,955 citizens.

“Looking at these numbers, it’s obvious that our health care system is not overwhelmed,” Pries said. “Why keep local businesses closed while thousands of people a day pack into the big-box stores? We have flattened the curve and want to reopen our county in a gradual and safe way that balances public health with the economy.”

Haste agreed, adding that Dauphin is a “business sanctuary county.”

“No business that reopens and follows the appropriate CDC and DOH safety precautions will be prosecuted in Dauphin County,” Haste said in the press release. “District Attorney Fran Chardo and Sheriff Nick Chimienti have said they will not enforce the governor’s order to keep ‘non-essential businesses’ closed, because they understand that many small business owners are trying to make a living, feed their families and pay their employees.”

State officials have said that a number of factors are taken into account when making the decision to relax restrictions for a county.

The county commissioners this week formed the Reopen and Restore Dauphin County Task Force to gather local input and develop a recovery plan:

“This governor has resorted to attacks on desperate people simply trying to make a living,” Pries said. “Our goal to bring back our economy and keep people safe remains the same.”

Lebanon County commissioners on Friday approved a resolution to advance from the red phase to the yellow phase of Wolf’s reopening plan. That county is not on Wolf's yellow phase list.