The top government official in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania’s second-most populous, said Monday that holding an in-person election in the midst of the crisis would be a “disaster.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he wants Wolf to expand an emergency declaration to allow the county to mail ballots to every registered voter and avoid the legal requirement that it open hundreds of polling places staffed by thousands of poll workers.
“I’m very concerned that we can actually operate this and actually function, getting this many people to work the election and in voting places,” Fitzgerald said in an interview.
Officials in a pair of heavily populated suburban Philadelphia counties, Montgomery and Chester, are also backing the idea of an all-mail election, while Philadelphia is making preparations for it in case Wolf orders it.
Asking people to work at polling places and vote there goes against the social-distancing requirements for residents to slow the spread of the virus in Pennsylvania, Fitzgerald said.
Wolf’s office said Monday that the governor is evaluating options to increase the percentage of voters who vote by mail, “which he believes will be important.”
There are challenges to moving to an all-mail election, including ensuring that voting is accessible to the disabled and that ballots are mailed to the correct addresses, Wolf’s office said.
Democrats pressed for a provision in legislation last month to require counties to send mail-in ballot applications to every voter, but it lacked support in the Republican-controlled Legislature and didn’t pass.
Lawmakers did, however, delay the primary election from April 28 to June 2.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:
The state Department of Health said confirmed cases had risen to above 24,000, while related deaths have reached 524.
It reported more than 1,360 additional cases in the 24 hours through midnight Sunday and 17 new deaths.
REOPENING THE ECONOMY
In a six-minute address from his Capitol offices on Monday night, Wolf said the tough measures to shut down the economy are making progress in blunting the spread of the virus and preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
But, Wolf said, how the state gets past this stage is still “far from perfectly clear.” He wants to see a drop in the number of new cases and more protective equipment for health care workers, he said.
“We do not have a hard and fast metric for exactly when we achieve victory, but we know we need to develop one,” he said. “And we will, soon.”
Meanwhile, he said, reopening the economy will depend on more and better testing that reveals who is sick and who is immune.
Earlier, Wolf joined the governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware to announce that they will share information and form a task force to help guide the reopening of the states’ economies once the crisis recedes.
The state Supreme Court on Monday upheld Wolf’s decision to shutter non-life-sustaining businesses based on the state’s emergency code and the governor’s police powers.
A four-justice opinion said the March 19 shutdown order was tailored to the nature of the coronavirus emergency.
The majority said the political candidate, real estate agent and golf course that challenged the order were not entitled to additional review procedures.
“These procedural requirements would overwhelm an entire department of government otherwise involved with disaster mitigation,” wrote Justice Christine Donohue for the majority.
Three justices said that there was reason to presume for now that Wolf’s action was valid, but that a lower court should have been directed to handle challenges while the order remains in force.
VETERANS HOMES DEATHS
Six residents of Pennsylvania’s state-run veterans homes have died from COVID-19, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said Monday.
The agency said 11 other residents have tested positive, along with 17 people who work there.
The coronavirus outbreak led the department to restrict visitors and activities, and perform daily health screenings. New admissions are on hold, according to department officials.
More than 1.3 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment compensation benefits in the four weeks after businesses began shutting down in earnest as Wolf called for measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In the seven days through Saturday, another 238,000 residents filed for benefits, the lowest weekly figure in the four full weeks since March 15.
CAR SALES LEGISLATION
Car dealers would be allowed to resume sales under a bill that advanced Monday on party lines from the House State Government Committee.
The Republican majority pushed through the proposal, which would direct Wolf and his administration to allow all vehicle dealer activity that can be done with adequate social distancing and other safety measures. Democrats said the proposal was too expansive.
The House is expected to return to a floor voting session Tuesday and could take up the bill, as well as other proposals that would permit more construction and retail businesses to operate during the pandemic.
Wolf has said he would oppose the measures if it could threaten public health.
The Department of Corrections reported the first death of an inmate due to the virus.
The department identified the inmate as a 67-year-old serving a life sentence in Phoenix state prison in Montgomery County for a first-degree murder conviction in Philadelphia.
The inmate died Wednesday at the Einstein Medical Center, the department said.
On Saturday, the Montgomery County coroner notified prison officials that the cause of death was acute respiratory distress from pneumonia due to COVID-19 with contributing factors of hypertensive cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis, it said.
POLICE ACADEMY SHUTS DOWN
The Pennsylvania State Police said Monday that its training academy in Hershey will be closed for at least two weeks after an enlisted staff member assigned to the facility tested positive for the virus.
The 100 cadets in the training class will continue instruction remotely from home, the state police said. It is scheduled to graduate by July 24. All other activities at the academy have been suspended since March.