Beaver County is among the counties planning to defy Gov. Tom Wolf, advising residents that it will operate under the looser coronavirus restrictions being allowed elsewhere in Pennsylvania, an official said Wednesday.
Beaver County, home to a severe outbreak in a large nursing home, is the only western Pennsylvania county where the Democratic governor has not lifted his tightest restrictions on residents leaving their homes and businesses that can operate.
Wolf tapped 13 counties in the region, including the Pittsburgh area, to see relief from his tightest pandemic restrictions starting Friday, joining 24 other counties across northern Pennsylvania that began emerging last week.
Dissatisfied, a growing number of Republican-controlled counties have vowed in recent days to join them, leading Wolf to threaten to block them from receiving pandemic aid.
Beaver County plans to operate under Wolf’s looser guidelines, which lifts his stay-at-home order and lets many more retailers, offices and other kinds of businesses open as long as they follow federal and state social distancing guidelines.
“Come this Friday, we plan on opening because we’ve been getting hundreds of emails text messages and phone calls that these business owners are on the brink of closing down,” Daniel Camp III, the Republican chairman of the Beaver County board, told a joint Senate committee hearing Wednesday.
Wolf's extraordinary warning to counties Monday came amid increasing pressure from Republican lawmakers to lift his pandemic restrictions more quickly in additional areas of Pennsylvania and as several GOP-controlled counties declared themselves in open rebellion against his stay-at-home orders and shutdown of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.”
Republicans in Lancaster County, the state's seventh-most populous, showed no signs of backing off their intention to operate under relaxed restrictions starting Friday.
However, Wolf’s warning led some counties to rethink their approach, including Dauphin County, where Republican commissioners backed away from vows to reopen Friday. The county, home to the state capital, will instead stick to the state’s guidance, a spokesperson for the commissioners said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, at least a few business owners, including of gyms, barbers and a restaurant, have defied the governor's orders at risk of losing a business license to operate.
In justifying his county's decision, Camp said the governor's restrictions won't stop Beaver County residents from traveling to neighboring counties or states to shop and spend money.
He also contended that the outbreak in one nursing home there should not hold back the entire county from reopening. Dozens of people have died and the Health Department has installed a temporary manager at the Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center.
In other coronavirus-related developments:
The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Wednesday reported 137 additional coronavirus deaths, raising the statewide total to 3,943.
The deaths occurred over the past several weeks. The Health Department has been reconciling its records with data provided by hospitals, health systems, municipal health departments and nursing homes.
Over two-thirds of the state's virus deaths have occurred among residents of nursing homes and similar institutions.
Health officials reported 707 new infections, bringing the statewide total to nearly 59,000.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. There is no data on how many people have fully recovered.
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.