HARRISBURG – The Senate Majority Policy Committee reviewed ways to safely reopen southeastern Pennsylvania’s economy as a result of the Governor’s shutdown, according to Committee Chairman David G. Argall (R-Berks/Schuylkill). This workshop discussion was held at the request of Senator Bob Mensch (R-Berks/Bucks/Montgomery).
Officials appearing at the workshop included: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick; Liz Ferry from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia; Katherine Hetherington Cunfer from the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance; Dr. Steven Shapiro, UPMC Chief Medical Officer; and Eric Kratz, Executive Director, Senate Labor and Industry Committee.
Panelists also included employers who were forced by the Governor’s executive order to shut down including Chris Pruitt from East Penn Manufacturing, Berks County; Charlie Bernard from Eagle Metals, Berks County; Kristi Gage-Linderman from Gage Personnel, Berks County; Bill Covaleski from Victory Brewing, Chester County; Jim Worthington from Newtown Athletic Club, Bucks County; Dave Magrogan from Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar, Bucks County.
“Prior to COVID, with a three to four percent unemployment rate, it was hard to find employees,” said Pruitt. “Now, the unemployment rate in Berks County is 17 percent and we need employees. We are as busy as we can be. We are not getting applications.”
“Right now we are being tasked with trying to do more with less. Our business is still significantly down. The amount of folks who are in our database, over 100,000 candidates that are ready to go to work, but are not wanting to go to work,” said Gage-Linderman.
The arbitrary nature of the Governor’s business closure order was also a recurring theme during the hearing. Commenting on the closure process, Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester/Delaware) reiterated how southeastern Pennsylvania was the first to close, and the last to reopen.
“Investors do not want to fund something that a Governor can just shut down and keep shut down even as the science changes,” said Magrogan. “We have had a difficult time getting the message to Governor Wolf. I think the biggest thing we realize is that the Health Secretary and Governor Wolf did not understand small business and how they could operate. We have been pushing for equality between the big box retailers and our small businesses.”
Dr. Shapiro said the lessons learned from the pandemic have prepared Pennsylvania to meet any future waves of the virus.
“We never believed that the virus would ‘roll over the country like a tsunami.’ Each geography has its own course. Philadelphia was the only part of the commonwealth with enough density and travel to be at risk, and they indeed handled many cases and handled them well,” he said. “For the communities served by UPMC, we thought we could contain the virus by developing our own test and using contact tracing to snuff out clusters as they arose. That is what we did. We never surged, and at peak mid-April we used 2 percent of our 5,500 beds and 6 percent of our ventilators.”
More information and video of the workshop can be found on the Senate Majority Policy Committee’s website at http://policy.pasenategop.com.