– In reaction to Gov. Tom Wolf’s new COVID-19 restrictions, Rep. Jason Ortitay (R-Washington/Allegheny) issued the following statement and suggested a different approach:
“While I believe the governor is doing what he thinks is best for the people of Pennsylvania, over the last year we’ve been told these decisions are based on data, which we have yet to see. Instead, these decisions are grounded in fear and the recycling of old ideas that no longer work. We need a new approach. One that is much more reasonable and has a better chance of gaining buy-in from our Commonwealth’s residents.
“The consequences of shutdowns and increased restrictions cannot be ignored. Across the board we have seen an increase in suicides, drug use, depression, anxiety, domestic violence, and other issues arise from trying to ‘stop the spread.’ The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently presented a study that for adults between 18-24, one in four had contemplated suicide in the last few months. This is unacceptable when their risk of death from COVID-19 is next to zero, even with underlying complications. While we do need to put precautions in place to mitigate the virus, we also need to not indirectly cause other problems. Every population group does not have the same level of risk.
“As the prime sponsor of a recently signed law related to mental health in children, the damage shutdowns and virtual learning are having on our children is irreparable. Children need social interaction. Yes, children can get COVID-19. However, data shows they are at a lower risk of getting and transmitting it to adults, which has been acknowledged by peer-reviewed studies and leading medical experts across the country. I believe these latest restrictions completely ignore these issues, which are worse than the virus. Parents with young children cannot be expected to keep these children in the home for weeks at a time without other human interaction. They will find alternatives, so instead of being in school with masks and precautions, they are congregating in homes to help alleviate the mental stress on their children.
“People are ignoring contact tracing calls and openly snubbing increased mitigation restrictions. Fatigue has set in for many people across the Commonwealth, and fewer and fewer people trust those in public health, which could lead to serious long-term consequences. Approximately 2% of respondents said they had been to a restaurant in the last 14 days and only 3% said they had been to a large gathering. The vast majority of people did not answer the questions. Of the people who did respond, about 85% said they did not go to a business or to a large gathering.
“Protecting the elderly and the vulnerable is something that should be at the forefront of any mitigation strategy. It is also missing from the latest set of restrictions. Data tells us that those most likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19 are the elderly and those with comorbidities. If the state is going to put restrictions on businesses, why not allow them to be open and have special hours set for that segment of the population? This would allow our small businesses to remain open and allow them a fighting chance to compete with the big box stores. Some businesses are already doing this. It’s a great way to keep that segment of the population that should stay home safe when they have to go out for things like groceries, medicine and clothes.
“This brings me to my next point: Businesses can no longer afford to be shut down without aid. If Gov. Wolf is going to force these businesses to close and continue to tighten his hold through enforcement, then he needs to develop a way to pay them to stay closed. You can save lives and livelihoods at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive, and you can support both without ‘wanting to kill grandma.’ There is a way to balance this without being threatening.
“One of the biggest problems with the governor’s approach is that by shutting down certain industries, like bars and restaurants, it forces people to find alternatives. Those alternatives may not be as safe as the precautions taken in a restaurant or bar thus resulting in the opposite of the intended purpose. This is one of the reasons we need a new approach. Human beings are social creatures and to ask them to endure over nine months of social isolation without any indication of these restrictions making a difference just shows people they do not need to adhere to them.
“Inspection efforts on businesses by the government has increased exponentially, which was a decision made solely by Gov. Wolf. In the last week, there were 632 inspections. Out of those inspections, there was one citation and one formal warning. Restaurants are following the guidelines. He deliberately decided to be an enforcer by focusing on this type of response, instead of concentrating on the unemployment system and staffing up to help people collect their earned benefits. The same effect could have been accomplished by sending out new standards or guidelines for businesses to follow with the same standards of inspection that are normally applied. If you threaten business owners, you can expect them to react in a hostile manner, which is exactly what has happened. Instead of tightening the restrictions grip, we should be allowing businesses to self-police and abide by the standards currently in place.
“Colder weather is upon us. People now spend most of their time inside. As expected, the number of positive tests has gone up. It is wise to watch the hospital utilization rate and ICU bed available rate to make sure our hospitals are not overrun. I commend Gov. Wolf for being concerned with that. The hospital utilization rate is currently at 14.3% of available beds as opposed to 3.4% on Nov. 1. ICU rates are normally over 70% filled without a pandemic, so it is important to note that when data is released in order for it to be taken in proper context.
“It is also important to point out that a 5% occupancy for religious institutions during the upcoming holy season is untenable. For almost all world religions, December and the holidays that are observed are deeply held convictions during which people come together to recognize their faith. No faith community wants to unduly put their attendees at risk and make the decisions that best fit the needs for their holidays. The government should not ever restrict that access, let alone during this season. The Wolf administration has not presented any data to prove that these institutions are any less safe than big box stores filled with holiday shoppers or the state liquor stores filled with those stocking up for another bar and restaurant closure.
“We need to take a different approach, one where we trust the people of the Commonwealth to act responsibly and work together within guidelines. We need to treat the public with respect and not force unreasonable and unrealistic expectations on them by executive order. My suggestion:
People should social distance and wear a mask when possible in public and around other people. They should also wear a mask appropriately with their mouth and nose both covered.
All businesses, both small and large, should have special hours for senior citizens and vulnerable populations.
Schools should be open (in-person) with precautions in place.
Churches should be open and available.
Bars and restaurants should be empowered to self-police and abide by the previous restrictions of social distancing and previous amount of “surprise” inspections.
“I stand ready to work with Gov. Wolf on these tough issues and how we can protect Pennsylvanians without constraining our constituents. I made this same offer in the spring when I sent him my re-opening plan as a thought starter. His office knows how to reach me, and I look forward to working with him. Together we can make a difference.”
The 46th Legislative District includes Collier and South Fayette townships and Bridgeville, Heidelberg, McDonald and Oakdale boroughs in Allegheny County. It also encompasses Canton, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and Smith townships and Burgettstown, McDonald and Midway boroughs in Washington County.