Wolf is reluctant to take extra aggressive motion regardless of the accelerated unfold of COVID-19
Pennsylvanians Gov. Tom Wolf and other senior officials again asked the public to stay home during a press conference Monday, citing the growing coronavirus infections in Pennsylvania and the crowded hospitals.
“There are fewer resources for the sickest Pennsyvlanians, whatever the disease they are suffering from. We already hear stories of hospitals being forced to redirect patients to other treatment facilities due to full emergency rooms and overwhelming needs, ”said Wolf.
Weekly, sometimes daily, since March, the governor has issued variations on this terrible warning, asking Pennsylvanians to think not only of themselves but their neighbors as well. And while the tone of his press conferences has become increasingly foreboding, the governor has yet to order another shutdown, as seen earlier this year.
The state’s inaction frustrates people like Hope Campbell of Plum Borough, who said a shutdown should have happened months ago, long before the state started reporting sometimes more than 10,000 new cases a day.
“If you can’t eat at one table in a restaurant because they’re closed, it’s going to limit its spread when people just can’t go to places,” said Campbell, who works as content manager for a website that covers soap operas during the day.
Campbell knows that a shutdown – or an order to stay home – would not completely stop the spread of the virus. However, she believes it would help, especially as hospitals may need to start rationing supplies soon.
“Still doing nothing but asking people to do the right thing? When you see it getting more out of hand, do something about it, ”she said.
One reason some government officials are not taking more aggressive action is because contact tracing indicates that the virus is mainly spreading in private settings. Therefore, the closure of public spaces seems ineffective.
“Parties break out on the weekend or after work. People know what to do but sometimes let go of their watch, “Allegheny County’s executive Rich Fitzgerald recently told WESA’s The Confluence.
Fitzgerald noted that some private gatherings brazenly violated public health recommendations. For example, parents in the Plum Borough School District recently organized an unauthorized homecoming dance that was held in neighboring Westmoreland County at Five Pines Barn, a popular wedding venue.
“It’s disappointing that these irresponsible parents sneaked beyond the county line, took 150 people with them, and are now basically covering up what they did,” said Fitzgerald, referring to the fact that the dance organizers were initially up refused to share the invitation list with contact tracers. They eventually flipped the list and at least two cases of COVID-19 were subsequently identified.
But if there had been a shutdown, Five Pines Barn would not have been able to host the dance at all. The same goes for bars and restaurants: public health officials ask people not to meet indoors, but these venues remain open.
Targeted efforts with incomplete data
While it was true at one point in time that most of the transmissions were in private settings, it’s hard to know if this is still the case. The explosive growth of infections has made it increasingly difficult to trace contacts and investigate cases, as has public reluctance to participate in this important public health intervention. As a result, the data on the spread of the virus is less robust.
But even if transmission remains the main mode of transmission during private gatherings, some are still in favor of closing non-essential public spaces.
“Enough of these people then go to the casinos and the bars and restaurants and then these people spread it and then go to other small gatherings,” said Christina Mair, a social epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh.
The governor is unlikely to shutdown. On Monday, he called it “a blunt tool” used in the spring when less was known about the virus.
“We didn’t know what to do to treat it and we weren’t even clear about what’s as basic as masking,” Wolf said. “We know a lot more about the virus and the vaccine is in sight.”
Wolf said his government is taking a more focused approach to harm reduction that includes capacity constraints on gatherings and requiring venues to serve food in addition to alcohol.
But as a stroll down Carson Street on the South Side or Butler Street in Lawrenceville shows, many people don’t seem concerned about the risk of coronavirus exposure in bars and restaurants.
With around 100 or more Pennsyvlanians dying from COVID-19 every day, the state’s medical system is prepared for a disaster, state officials say.
“We have to close what we can close. Control what we can control, ”said Mair, who argues that allowing society to function normally sends the message that everything is fine when it is not, thus encouraging dangerous behaviors.
Public Health Catch-22
Public health officials often cite the economic damage when asked why they did not issue another stay at home order.
“The store closure is more painful now than it was in March. The financial support and additional unemployment for laid-off workers are gone, ”said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County’s Department of Health, at a news conference last week.
The federal eviction moratorium also expires at the end of December, although some are already taking place.
Housing and food security problems are also public health problems that disproportionately affect many people of color who are already more likely to become seriously ill or die of COVID-19.
Another public health risk from a shutdown is that closing down places where people can socialize more safely can actually increase the spread of the virus.
“You are not going to nail people into their homes,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “I consider staying at home orders as an approach to abstinence only. We know that this will have additional consequences for human behavior that will then not be as visible to public health. “
Just like abstinence-only sex education or the war on drugs, people still engage in prohibited activities but are often at higher risk. When these behaviors are more public, government and health workers can intervene and offer safer alternatives.
Examples of harm reduction in COVID-19 include wearing a mask when shopping, visiting friends outdoors, and allowing outdoor seating in bars and restaurants – Pennsylvania did not take that last measure.
However, harm reduction with the coronavirus is difficult, partly due to a lack of testing. Adalja said finding out if you have the virus should be as easy as taking a home pregnancy test.
“To me, the original sin of this pandemic is the fact that we can’t test people as often as we have to and that people can’t know their status,” he said. “We just can’t answer this basic question of who is infected and who is not 11 months old.”
Such ample access to testing would also make it easier to keep the economy open while reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
Wolf’s (limited) political reach
Enforcing a shutdown order would be largely a matter for local officials, and there is little appetite for it in some corners of the state.
“If the departments have only one officer on duty in daylight, we don’t have the resources,” said David Lozier, Beaver County district attorney.
During the spring shutdown, Lozier directed police departments under his jurisdiction not to enforce the governor’s forced shutdown of non-essential businesses. The question of whether a company can be classified as material is a constitutional question.
“You can have 500 people in a Wal-Mart, but you couldn’t have five people in a small Hallmark store selling the same things,” he said. “[Prosecutors are] is only intended to enforce laws that are foreseeable, that are well-defined and that can be applied equally across the population. “
But Wolf’s former press secretary, JJ Abbott, said politics was at stake too.
“We have seen places across the board, especially Republicans, have resisted these efforts [to mitigate viral spread,]Said Abbott, who left administration in March and now runs a progressive communications firm. “We’ve been dealing with an enormous campaign of misinformation and disinformation in the last seven or eight months, particularly driven by the president.”
It is difficult to get local officials to convince voters of the severity of the pandemic when they themselves doubt it or argue against Wolf’s mitigation efforts on philosophical grounds, believing that mask mandates or corporate restrictions are overreach for the government represent.
Despite the political risk, Wolf pointed out the possibility of additional restrictions towards the end of his press conference on Monday.
“We will look into it further and possibly share something with you in the coming days,” he said.
Some mitigation measures remain in place, such as B. The limitation of the crowd, the requirement that restaurants serve food with alcohol and the universal masking mandate. But, by and large, it appears that officials are sticking to their current practice – asking people to stay home, scolding members of the public for failing to comply, and waiting for a vaccine.