Some of Pennsylvania's most populous counties are starting to press Gov. Tom Wolf to allow them to conduct the June 2 primary election entirely by mail amid fears that the coronavirus would pose a threat to poll workers and voters.
The top government official in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania's second-most populous, said Monday that holding an in-person election in the midst of the crisis would be a “disaster.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he wants Wolf to expand an emergency declaration to allow the county to mail ballots to every registered voter and avoid the legal requirement that it open hundreds of polling places staffed by thousands of poll workers.
“I’m very concerned that we can actually operate this and actually function, getting this many people to work the election and in voting places,” Fitzgerald said in an interview.
Officials in a pair of heavily populated suburban Philadelphia counties, Montgomery and Chester, are also backing the idea of an all-mail election, while Philadelphia is making preparations for it in case an all-mail election is ordered.
Asking people to work at polling places and vote there goes against the social-distancing requirements for residents to slow the spread of the virus in Pennsylvania, Fitzgerald said.
Democrats pressed for a provision in legislation last month to require counties to send mail-in ballot applications to every voter, but it lacked support in the Republican-controlled Legislature and didn't pass.
Lawmakers did, however, delay the primary election from April 28 to June 2.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:
The state Department of Health said confirmed cases had risen to above 24,000, while related deaths have reached 524.
It reported more than 1,360 additional cases in the 24 hours through midnight Sunday and 17 new deaths.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
REOPENING THE ECONOMY
Wolf joined the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware to announce that they will share information and form a task force to help guide the reopening of the states' economies once the crisis recedes.
President Donald Trump asserted Monday that he is the ultimate decision-maker for determining how and when to reopen the country.
Wolf, however, said that considering governors had the responsibility for closing states down, “I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up.”
Wolf also asserted that it is a "false choice" to choose between public health or the economy.
“I think this regional compact is premised on the idea that you’re not going have a healthy economy if you have an unhealthy population,” Wolf said on a conference call with the other governors. "So we’ve got to do both. We’ve got to get people healthy. The sequence is you’ve got to get people healthy first and then you can reopen the economy, not until, or the economy’s not going to work.”
More than 1.3 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment compensation benefits in the four weeks after businesses began shutting down in earnest as Wolf called for measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In the seven days through Saturday, another 238,000 residents filed for benefits, the lowest weekly figure in the four full weeks since March 15.
CAR SALES LEGISLATION
Car dealers would be allowed to resume sales under a bill that advanced Monday on party lines from the House State Government Committee.
The Republican majority pushed through the proposal, which would direct Wolf and his administration to allow all vehicle dealer activity that can be done with adequate social distancing and other safety measures.
Democrats said that the proposal was too expansive and that another pending bill, permitting notaries to operate remotely, would essentially allow more online sales of vehicles.
The House is expected to return to a floor voting session on Tuesday and could take up the bill, as well as other proposals that would permit more construction and retail businesses to operate during the pandemic.
Wolf has said he would oppose the measures if it could threaten public health.
The Department of Corrections reported the first death of an inmate due to the virus.
The department identified the inmate as a 67-year-old serving a life sentence in Phoenix state prison in Montgomery County for a first-degree murder conviction in Philadelphia.
The inmate died Wednesday at the Einstein Medical Center, the department said.
On Saturday, the Montgomery County coroner notified prison officials that the cause of death was acute respiratory distress from pneumonia due to COVID-19 with contributing factors of hypertensive cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis, it said.
POLICE ACADEMY SHUTS DOWN
The Pennsylvania State Police said Monday that its training academy in Hershey will be closed for at least two weeks after an enlisted staff member assigned to the facility tested positive for the virus.
The 100 cadets in the training class will continue instruction remotely from home, the state police said.
The cadet class has been at the academy since Jan. 12, and the state police's Bureau of Training and Education will work to ensure it can graduate by July 24 as scheduled.
The decision to resume onsite instruction will be based on guidance from the state Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
All other activities at the academy have been suspended since March.