PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf will announce Friday that more counties can see some of his tightest pandemic restrictions lifted, he said, as counties and lawmakers kept up pressure on him to ease up on his orders. In a telephone news conference Thursday with reporters, Wolf said he will make his decision tomorrow morning.
However, he said he has not changed his criteria for deciding which counties can emerge from his stay-at-home order and his order for non-life-sustaining businesses to close.
Twenty-four counties in the northwestern and north-central part of the commonwealth have already reopened and 13 more counties in western Pennsylvania will be reopening tomorrow.
Stay-at-home orders for Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs have been extended until June 4.
It’s not known yet which counties will move from the red to yellow phase of the reopening.
In Montgomery County, officials had strong words today for Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
“Pennsylvania’s failed response to the coronavirus has been the subject of national media and rightfully so. There’s no question that Gov. Wolf and Secretary Levine have been a complete and utter failure since this pandemic began, adding insult to the injuries they have inflicted upon the residents and businesses of Pennsylvania,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Joseph Gale.
For now, nine counties that remain under Wolf’s tightest restrictions meet one of his criteria of no more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days. That includes York County, the state’s eighth-most populous, and eight other largely rural and sparsely populated counties.
At least seven other Republican-controlled counties, including Beaver, Huntingdon and Lancaster, the state’s seventh-most populous, have signaled that they will move to defy Wolf’s orders starting Friday, even though they do not meet the criteria for new cases over the past 14 days.
Many of them say that Wolf’s administration has been opaque in how it is making decisions and, on their own, they will consider at least some of Wolf’s restrictions lifted, as long as businesses can adhere to state or federal safety measures.
With political tensions boiling, Wolf has sought to reach out to county officials this week after he suggested Monday that politicians encouraging people to defy his orders and “quit the fight are acting in a most cowardly way.” He also threatened to withhold aid from counties that do defy his orders.
Accusations have flown all week over who is politicizing the virus response. But Wolf said Thursday that politicizing it will hurt efforts to fight it.
“To the extent that we distract ourselves in any way, politicize it by trying to … point fingers at something other than the virus, we’re basically playing into the virus’s hands here,” Wolf said.
Leaders in Bucks County are in talks with the Wolf Administration about reopening southeastern Pennsylvania and on Thursday night, the governor pushed back on comments a commissioner made about those discussions.
“I think there’s also some indications that the administration is gonna change some of those, or take a look at the metrics that they’ve already put out there for reopening,” Bucks County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo said.
“I’m baffled by what they were talking about,” Wolf responded. “I think I would know if we were actually changing the criteria. We’re not.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)