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Luzerne County State of Emergency Could End Soon After Recovery

The county manager said that recovery made him question whether to sign a renewal of the state of emergency he declared March 15, after the state Health Department reported the first known case of coronavirus in the county.

by Eric Mark, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. / June 10, 2020
Sipa USA via AP

(TNS) — Luzerne County will remain under a state of emergency for the rest of this week — but probably not much longer, county Manager David Pedri said Tuesday.

At a county council work session, Pedri said the county has made a remarkable recovery in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, as seen in the county’s sharply declining rate of deaths and infections.

Pedri said that recovery made him question on Monday whether to sign a renewal of the state of emergency he declared March 15, after the state Department of Health reported the first known case of coronavirus infection in the county.

An emergency declaration expires after five days unless it is renewed, according to the county charter. Pedri, who as county manager is authorized by the charter to declare a state of emergency, has renewed the emergency declaration 17 times. The declaration in effect now expires Saturday.

Pedri told council he signed the most recent declaration to ensure the county would remain eligible for state and federal relief and assistance. A conversation with county emergency management director Lucy Morgan convinced him it would be prudent not to take a chance on losing out on potential help, he said.

“We are erring on the side of caution,” Pedri said. “We don’t want to lose out on an opportunity.”

However, he also said it is likely the county-wide state of emergency will end before council’s next meeting on June 23.

That is not soon enough for Councilman Harry Haas, who pushed Pedri to provide proof the county could lose funding if the state of emergency ends.

Haas said people and businesses are suffering under pandemic-inspired restrictions that remain in effect even as the county is well into the recovery phase.

Haas acknowledged that ending the state of emergency at the county level would not impact whether or not businesses could reopen. That is determined by the state’s red-yellow-green reopening plan, under the direction of Gov. Tom Wolf.

Still, ending the state of emergency would make a statement, Haas said.

“If we terminate that declaration, what could happen?” he said. “We would do the county a great service.”

Haas blasted Wolf for marching with protesters at a Harrisburg rally last week, in violation of his own guidelines for gatherings in the yellow phase of recovery.

Haas also criticized the state’s overall response to the pandemic.

“More than the virus, the governmental actions from the state are hurting more than they are helping,” Haas said. “There is a lot of hypocrisy coming out of the capital.”

Luzerne County is in the yellow, or middle phase of the state’s coronavirus recovery plan.

It is widely expected to move to the least restrictive green phase later this month, perhaps on June 19.

In the green phase, many now-shuttered businesses such as barber shops, hair salons, gyms and theaters may open, though under guidelines and occupancy restrictions. Restaurants may resume indoor dine-in service under restrictions that include a 50% capacity limit.

Contact the writer:

emark@citizensvoice.com, 570-821-2117

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©2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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