The coronavirus has ravaged Pennsylvania: the state ranks 5th amongst all U.S. states for the highest number of deaths related to the virus. Up to now, we have been lucky to see fewer infections and deaths than other places. This is likely due to our rural location, lower population density, excellent healthcare facilities, and some blind luck.

However, the pandemic’s impact in any community can appear with startling speed. All it takes is one person returning from a party in Pittsburgh or a beach vacation in Florida to start a major outbreak in Union or Snyder County. This unfortunate fact means that we must take the virus seriously. Health is an economic issue. We cannot continue the flawed thinking that one is a trade-off for the other. The only way to see our economy recover to lift all boats is to make sure we overcome the pandemic first.

How do we manage a pandemic? We have the knowledge and tools. What is lacking is the political will to lead. All elected officials, regardless of party, need to fully support and model:

  • Safe distances: participate in physical distancing whenever possible, most especially in any enclosed space with recirculating air.
  • Mask: don a life-saving mask whenever indoors with people not in your household and whenever outside and unable to maintain six feet.
  • Testing on-demand to allow people to know if they are infected and active sentinel testing to monitor potential outbreaks as they occur.
  • Insure adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all healthcare workers.

These measures will not miraculously make the pandemic disappear. Testing, tracing, treatments, and vaccines will need to come online. Until they do, all of this will lower risk. Lowering risk as much as we can is how we protect people and keep the economy going.

It may seem much of this was being handled through the spring as we watched our fellow Americans in Pennsylvania and beyond bear the horrible brunt of the initial spike of the pandemic. But, sadly, bickering and finger-pointing in Washington and Harrisburg wasted time and good will.

Our working families are struggling. I’ve seen it amongst friends and family members who live in the 85th and around the country. The Pennsylvania Legislature must take action to provide relief to all of the people who are economic victims of the pandemic. Instead of leaving Harrisburg and going on vacation, kicking the hard decisions down the road because they fear taking tough votes, Rep David Rowe and his fellow legislators need to act like the essential workers they laud one day and abandon the next. The people harvest food, drive trucks, work in factories, and care for the sick continue to work and run the risk of infection. Where are the leaders?

Priority number one: use the unspent portion of the initial CARES act to provide relief to families facing eviction, medical costs, and personal bankruptcy. The legislature left Harrisburg with $1.3 billion of the appropriated money unused. We must work together to support our community by demanding a people’s bailout from both the State and Federal governments. We often hear of bailouts for companies like American Airlines, General Electric, and investment banking, it is clear that now, more than ever, our families need tax relief, and more direct payments in order to cover ongoing costs.