Politicking Pennsylvania’s pandemic

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine. Photo: Daily Item/AP

Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA – “In just a swoop of a pen we had our rights taken away just like that!” … “Unconstitutional!!!!!” … “Throw out the masks!”

Some local social media posts recently read like the latest crop from a troll farm  – divisive exclamations of anger over Gov. Tom Wolf’s exercise of authority to protect public health and safety during the current pandemic. To fact-check the assertions:

— The Wolf administration has helpfully listed the rules of law that empower the governor’s executive actions. They include the criminal code; the liquor laws; the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955, enacted during the polio epidemic, and others.

— The constitutionality of governors’ “police powers” has long been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court to authorize regulation of virtually everything within states’ borders. The most compelling use of a state’s police power is protection of public health and safety, the court has consistently ruled.

— Rhetorical flourishes about face masks make sweeping statements. (One state lawmaker at last month’s Capitol rally described the governor’s protective orders as “tyranny.”)  But as a public health matter, such gatherings as the rally redux scheduled for the Capitol today, do not inspire public confidence. Drawing a statewide – or interstate — crowd unprotected by masks and gloves for a prolonged period is a recipe for seeding and spreading the virus fast, far and wide. (Case study from Pennsylvania history: Philadelphia’s patriotic Liberty Loans Parade during the flu pandemic in September 1918, “the deadliest parade in American history.”)

“That is how Covid-19 spreads,” warned state health secretary Rachel Levine (Pennsylvania’s Anthony Fauci) last month. 


PRESIDENT TRUMP’S VISIT yesterday to a face mask and PPE supplier in Allentown walked the walk of bad behavior that Dr. Levine warned against. He also talked the talk.

“We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit,” the president said after his Allentown visit. “You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected, and they want to keep them closed. Can’t do that.”

President Donald Trump tours Allentown, Pa., PPE plant, May 14, 2020. Photo: Reuters

Fact-check: Yes he can. But the governor, in fact, cautiously has begun to open up, and more than a little bit. At 12:01 today, for example, Indiana County and 12 other Southwestern Pennsylvania counties reopened for some businesses, with some limitations. The governor has lifted restrictions on more than half of the state’s 67 counties, most of them in rural areas, home to the president’s base.


THE PRESIDENT APPEARS to have done as much preparation for the Allentown road trip as he has done for the pandemic. Opinion polls show Mr. Wolf, like other governors whose preparation for reopening relies on science instead of the stock market, is enjoying record public support, including from Republicans.  The same is true for governors’ tough policies to suppress the virus.

The president’s ratings? Not so much. And his divide-and-conquer strategy to favor livelihoods over lives may be self-defeating.

One detailed and data-rich analysis last month reported that Democrats and Republicans both care a lot about the pandemic and the government’s response. But Republicans have more to lose.

“The older you are, the more likely you are to both vote Republican and die from the coronavirus,” wrote businessman and Medium reporter Tomas Pueyo. “Voters aged 80+ are 80 times more likely to die from the coronavirus than those under 40.”

Thus, people who voted for Trump in 2016 are about 30 percent more likely to die from Covid-19 than Democrats, according to Pueyo’s analysis. In swing states such as Pennsylvania, the effect could wipe out much of Trump’s 2016 electoral edge.


MR. TRUMP COULD BENEFIT himself and his base by advising social separation and masking. He might even try modeling the preventive measures at his next public event.

But he must respond to the real and urgent bipartisan need facing struggling workers in a staggering economy: He should tell the Senate to expedite additional critical economic relief.


David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.

The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email doloomis@iup.edu or click on the “contact us” drop-down menu, above.



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