HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Gov. Tom Wolf blasted local elected officials who plan to reopen in defiance of his shutdown orders, threatening Monday to yank coronavirus aid and declaring they are "choosing to desert in the face of the enemy."
The normally mild-mannered Democrat fired back after several counties declared themselves in open rebellion against his restrictions on businesses and movement, saying local officials who pronounce themselves open for business will pay a steep price.
"To those politicians who decide to cave in to this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act," said Wolf, threatening to withhold state and federal funding to counties "that put us all at risk by operating illegally."
Wolf also warned businesses that choose to "follow the whims of local politicians and ignore the law" by reopening in defiance of the shutdown that they risk businesses licenses, certificates of occupancy and other required governmental approvals to operate.
Republican elected officials in a growing number of counties are planning to move on their own to lift some of Wolf's restrictions, including his stay-at-home orders and shutdown of businesses deemed "non-life-sustaining." The counties assert they have enough testing, equipment and hospital capacity to deal with the coronavirus.
"We have heard the pleas of our residents who desire the ability to safely reopen their businesses and safely return to work," said nearly identical letters sent by state lawmakers, county commissioners and others in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties.
Franklin, Lancaster and Dauphin, among other counties, are also indicating they plan to lift pandemic restrictions on their own beginning this week.
Wolf outlined the following consequences to counties and businesses that do not abide by the law to remain closed:
*Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000.
*Businesses in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides. The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance has details here
*Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will be at risk of losing their liquor license.
*County residents receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers.
President Donald Trump weighed in on the intensifying political fight, tweeting Monday: "The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails."
Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman warned that companies that ignore the shutdown order could be jeopardizing their insurance coverage and putting themselves at risk of having their claims denied.
She said many policies have provisions that exclude coverage stemming from "illegal acts or conduct," and could result in denied claims for property damage, protection from liability and other hazards should a business decide to reopen in violation of Wolf's order.
"It is the duty of every business and resident in Pennsylvania to ensure that they and the public at large are provided with the maximum level of protection afforded by insurance. Any actions that could potentially create coverage gaps are the antitheses of the civil duty required of all residents during these times of emergency," she said in a written statement.
Wolf's plan has divided Pennsylvania into color-coded zones. Those in the red phase, which include the Philadelphia region, has the most restrictions on businesseses and gatherings. Some restrictions are lifted in the yellow phase, while even more are lifted in green.
Parts of the central and western parts of Pennsylvania have recently been moved to or are set to move to the yellow phase.
Action News was in Doylestown, Pa. on Monday where the owner of Eden Organics Salon and Spa said it was time to reopen.
"He needs to trust the members of the community and the businesses to know how to operate safely and their respective businesses," said Catherine Chamberlain, a former nurse.
Chamberlain disagrees with Wolf's assessment that moves to reopen are 'cowardly.'
"I think they are quite the opposite of that. I think they are brace and someone does need to stand up for freedom," she said.
Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis Marseglia and her board want the governor to set a firm date to reopen.
She discussed the request with Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
"She said they'd look at it and get back to us. We asked that they get back to us this week," Marseglia said.
Ellis-Marseglia says Bucks County won't reopen without state approval.
But other counties are threatening to do so. Berks County is working on a reopening plan, but wouldn't answer questions about it.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported Monday that there are 543 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 57,154.
The state is reporting an increase of 24 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 3,731 deaths in Pennsylvania.
There are 231,704 patients who have tested negative to date.
Of the patients who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows:
Nearly 1% are aged 0-4;
Nearly 1% are aged 5-12;
1% are aged 13-18;
Nearly 6% are aged 19-24;
Nearly 37% are aged 25-49;
26% are aged 50-64; and
28% are aged 65 or older.
Most of the patients hospitalized are aged 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older.
In nursing and personal care homes, there are 11,801 resident cases of COVID-19, and 1,655 cases among employees, for a total of 13,456 at 540 distinct facilities in 44 counties. Out of our total deaths, 2,552 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
Approximately 3,790 of our total cases are in health care workers.
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