More Pennsylvania Counties Say They Won’t Enforce Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order

A growing list of Pennsylvania counties are stating that their district attorneys will not be prosecuting those who defy lockdown measures.
More Pennsylvania Counties Say They Won’t Enforce Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 21, 2018. (Mark Makela/Getty Images)
Isabel van Brugen
District attorneys in a growing number of Pennsylvania counties say they won’t prosecute those who defy stay-at-home measures put in place by Gov. Tom Wolf to curb the transmission of the CCP virus.

It comes as Wolf on May 11 threatened to block federal aid to Pennsylvania counties that violate state measures by allowing “non-life-sustaining” businesses to reopen, warning that those jurisdictions could face consequences.

“I won’t sit back and watch residents who live in counties under Stay-at-Home orders get sick because local leaders cannot see the risks of COVID-19 and push to reopen prematurely,“ he wrote on Twitter. ”Today I am announcing consequences for counties that do not abide by the law to remain closed.

“Non-compliant counties won’t be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds. Instead, those funds will be allocated to counties working to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Wolf added.

“Dine-in restaurants that open in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will risk receiving a citation. These citations can ultimately lead to the loss of a restaurant’s liquor license.”

Under the federal emergency relief law signed by President Donald Trump in late March, Pennsylvania was allotted about $4 billion in aid. Wolf, for now, has pledged to work with the Republican-controlled legislature on how to spend it.

Fran Chardo, the district attorney for Dauphin County, said May 9 that the county’s office would only prosecute in “extraordinary circumstances.”

“People are being smart, wearing masks, and maintaining social distance. Using criminal sanctions would not be helpful,” Chardo said in a statement. “The criminal law is a blunt instrument and is not ordinarily used for enforcement of a governor’s decree.”

Wolf last week extended the state’s stay-at-home order for all “red” phase counties—including Dauphin—until June 4. Wolf’s office said that these counties may be able to move out of the “red” classification before that date if the situation improves. Under this phase, residents are under orders to stay home, with all “non-life-sustaining” businesses ordered to close.

Under Wolf’s reopening plan for the state, regions and counties will move from red to yellow, and then, eventually, to green, under which all pandemic restrictions will be lifted, aside from any federal or state health guidelines that remain in effect.

Dauphin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Haste on May 8 said the county would defy Wolf’s order, and demanded Wolf “return our state to the people (as prescribed by our Constitution) and not run it as a dictatorship.”

Elsewhere, the Lancaster County district attorney’s office said May 10 it won’t prosecute those who violate Wolf’s stay-at-home order. The county said it would it will move out of the red phase on May 15 and into yellow with or without Wolf’s permission.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and administrative orders from our state officials have placed law enforcement all across Pennsylvania in uncharted waters,” District Attorney Heather Adams said. “Our interpretation of existing law in balance with the constantly shifting definitions of what is and is not allowed, per these orders, brought us to this informed decision: we will not prosecute.”

The Pennsylvania counties of Lebanon and York have also adopted similar positions.

As of May 12, Pennsylvania had at least 57,900 cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, with more than 3,800 deaths, according to government data.
Nearly 70 percent of CCP virus fatalities in the state have occurred in nursing homes, personal care homes, and assisted living residences, Mike Turzai, the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, said in a letter last week to chamber members, citing data from the secretary of health.
The average age of those who had died as of May 6 was 79 years old, Turzai said, while 61 percent of those who died had hypertension, 54 percent had heart disease, 37 percent had diabetes, and 30 percent had chronic pulmonary disease.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
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