‘Gov. Wolf, do not cancel Christmas’: Pa. coronavirus shutdowns will last through holidays

Sam Ruland

| York Daily Record

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Meet 23 Pennsylvanians who lost their lives from COVID-19

See the lives of 23 Pennsylvanians, from diverse backgrounds, who lost their lives this year due to COVID-19.

For millions of Pennsylvanians, the COVID-19 pandemic will provide a most unwelcome gift this Christmas: a wide-ranging shutdown of businesses and gatherings as the state grapples with its most massive and dangerous surge in infections and hospitalizations to date.

Indoor gatherings and events of more than 10 people and outdoor events of more than 50 people will be prohibited, as well as indoor dining at restaurants, Gov. Tom Wolf announced — no doubt shifting the way many people planned to celebrate the holidays.

The restrictions going into effect Saturday will remain in place for at least three weeks, meaning the commonwealth will not emerge from the latest orders until at least Jan. 4.

Casinos and movie theaters, indoor ice rinks, bowling alleys and bingo halls also will have to temporarily shut down.

And if you thought holiday shopping lines were bad now, just wait. The new restrictions order all retail businesses to operate at 50% capacity, down from 75% capacity.

The timing of the rules is the latest blow, in a year full of them, for many businesses — which have been battered by coronavirus-related restrictions and hoped the holiday shopping season would throw them a desperately needed lifeline — and to the psyche of Pennsylvanians, who for months have lived with the threat of the coronavirus hanging over their heads.

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Since the pandemic first took storm in Pennsylvania, Wolf has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers for how he has handled the pandemic., and on Thursday, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, the Republican House Majority Leader who represents Centre and Mifflin counties, condemned Wolf for “canceling Christmas.”

“Gov. Wolf, do not cancel Christmas,” Benninghoff said in a statement. “Do not use your executive order pen to devastate lives and livelihoods.”

Benninghoff said the governor’s orders will do more long-term harm economically, emotionally and mentally, and he believes Pennsylvanians are capable of behaving responsibly without restrictions in place.

“I recognize we are facing a serious resurgence of COVID-19 and our health care systems are struggling to keep up with the increased demand,” he continued. “However, job-crushing, harmful government mandates are not the answer. Canceling Christmas is not the answer.”

State leaders across the board have said they hope to avoid draconian measures such as the statewide lockdown Wolf ordered in the spring. But as the number of positive cases continues to rise, so does the positive test rate in counties across the state and their transmission levels.

On Thursday alone, the state reported an additional 11,972 coronavirus cases, and a total of 12,010 fatalities. And once again, more than 5,000 people with coronavirus infections are hospitalized in Pennsylvania — quadruple the number from Halloween.

Desperate times call for drastic measures, officials said. And although Wolf largely faced criticism for Thursday’s actions, he did find support from some Democrats willing to speak out in favor of his decision.

“I commend Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine for taking this difficult, but necessary, action to contain COVID-19 in Pennsylvania,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. “There’s no question that these measures will result in real challenges for restaurant owners, workers and families. That’s why it’s vital that Congress do its part to come together and pass a COVID-19 relief bill to help those impacted by this pandemic.”

Though the additional restrictions are undoubtedly a hardship for many, Wolf said they were “required to make sure we get through the surge as quickly as possible and saving as many lives and preventing as many infections as we possibly can.”

As bleak as things are now, the ceiling of the surge may be yet to come, as experts say the ramifications of travel and gathering for the Thanksgiving holiday have yet to be fully realized.

More: How will Pa. distribute a COVID-19 vaccine? Answers and challenges start to emerge

However, state officials say there is light at the end of the tunnel as companies begin to roll out their initial shipments of COVID-19 vaccines.

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said Thursday she anticipates Pennsylvania to start distributing the Pfizer vaccine to health care workers next week and to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities at the end of December.

“Hope is on the horizon,” she said.

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