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'Draconian measures' such as stay-at-home order 'not an option' if coronavirus rebounds, Gov. Wolf says

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Gov. Tom Wolf said returning to the “Draconian measures” such as shelter-in-place that were instituted in Pennsylvania this spring to battle the coronavirus are highly unlikely if COVID-19 makes a strong rebound in the fall.

“We cannot do a lockdown. We cannot do a shelter-in-place. That’s just not going to work. But we are going to have more capacity in our health care system. We’re going to have the ability to do more testing. We’re probably not going to have a vaccine come the fall, come the next flu season. So all those assumptions we’re bringing into the plan and we’re working on that every day,” Wolf said during his Friday press conference.

“The goal is that we don’t do that,” he said of shelter-in-place. “The assumption is that that’s not an option. We want do everything in our power to avoid that. And we will.”

Counties started being placed under stay-at-home orders in late March. On March 27, there were 19 counties under a stay-at-home order: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Westmoreland and York. Dauphin County was added March 30, and the entire state was placed under a stay-at-home order April 1.

The order essentially closed what were considered “non-life-sustaining” businesses, and schools were limited to virtual classes. Pennsylvanians were asked to leave the house only for tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home. Residents could travel to jobs at businesses considered life-sustaining; engage in outdoor activity as long as social distancing was practiced; and care for the elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable people.

The governor later established red, yellow and green phases of coronavirus recovery for counties, and as they were moved to yellow, stay-at-home orders were relaxed but are still encouraged.

Wolf called the shelter-in-place order “frustrating.”

“I think it’s a really great thing that people have done that, but if we can figure out a way to keep ourselves safe without having to resort to those Draconian measures, I think we ought to do that,” he said. “We resorted to those Draconian measures because we were really concerned about a health care system that would be overwhelmed as it was in parts of New York, as it was in Italy, as it was in parts of Spain. We didn’t want that to happen in Pennsylvania. And we avoided that. It might have happened.

“Drexel University did a study that said doing what we did as early as we did, as decisively as we did, saved 7,000 lives. I don’t know where they got that information. That’s Drexel University. But that’s one city, one county in Pennsylvania where we saved 7,000 lives. Maybe we saved more by doing that.

“But I don’t think anybody would argue that that is something we all loved. Our economy really came to a grinding halt. That’s not great. So as we move forward, as we get more capacity in our health care system, as we learn more about this disease, the hope is that we can do much better at balancing the competing needs of getting people back to work, getting back to school, getting life back to interacting with their loved ones in this new post-infectious-disease world, but do that in a way that does not require us to do things as Draconian as shelter in place.

“Again, the virus keeps telling us that to the extent we can do that (stay at home and using social distancing measures), we’re reducing the risk of infection. But I think people actually want to interact more. They want to go to stores. They want to go to school. They want to do those things. And I think everything we ought to do is try to figure out how with what we have we can do that.”