Enough political theater; it’s time to work for the people

In the midst of a global pandemic, the Pennsylvania legislature is putting on a show for top ratings. And, while so many are thoroughly distracted by the political theater, we are failing to focus on our real job: serving the people.

Our commonwealth started out strong in the fight against COVID-19. Our legislature was among the first in the country to implement policies to ensure that we could continue to function while keeping workers and families across Pennsylvania as safe as possible.

We adopted mitigation and contact tracing techniques early, closed schools and implemented a stay-at-home order as soon a statewide spread became apparent. While this has certainly been an imperfect process, we’ve been aggressive in our mitigation measures to save lives. And it’s working.

There is no exact playbook for this, no quick solution. We are learning together.

But, now is not the time to play armchair physician, nor is it time to suddenly flout epidemiological expertise either. Yet that is what I’m hearing from many of my colleagues on a daily basis. These actions do not prioritize the health of Pennsylvanians. Instead, it’s become political theater intended to win points with the loudest dissenters in a contest that will be meaningless if we don’t survive to see who “wins.”

Those legislators who imply or suggest they always know best – despite lacking any expertise on the matter – seem to believe that bravado creates immunity from disease. As we learned this week, it does not.

Moreover, there are only three medical professionals in the General Assembly, none of whom are experts in infectious disease. I’ve participated in calls during which Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has had to explain to the same colleagues pushing to reopen the difference between a 0.1% fatality rate and a 1.0% fatality rate and the dangers of excluding long-term care facilities from our metrics.

Very recently, the House voted on legislation to reopen water parks, county fairs, zoos and NASCAR events. We've also voted on bills that blatantly fail to grant immunocompromised workers protections if they're unable to return to work. We’ve voted to require reopened businesses to use PPE despite our inability to provide such equipment to our overworked, underpaid and still somehow underappreciated healthcare workers.

We deserve better than attempts to overturn Governor Wolf’s emergency disaster declaration. This piece of political posturing could cost the state more than $1.4 billion in COVID-19 relief funds. We simply cannot afford to act rashly or with such blatant disregard for our economic future.

We still do not know how dangerous this virus is because there simply is not enough data available. We are seeing increased instances of it harming children and creating blood clotting issues in young adults. We do not know the long-term outcomes of COVID-19 infection because the evidence does not yet exist.

If we reopen too quickly or without detailed plans and precautions, substantially more people will die. If we open too early and have to shut down again after a resurgence of the virus, we will face significantly worse economic outcomes and a costly “W-shaped” recovery.

In economic models, there's often a "sweet spot" where costs and benefits intersect. Here, the "reopen" model creates a fallacy that there is a sweet spot where there is an acceptable number of deaths to allow us to maximize economic recovery.

But there is no such thing.

We must work to save our economy while we also continue to protect as many lives as possible. Do I think the administration has been flawless in its response to this crisis? No. Do I think the administration is working hard to do the best it can in an unprecedented crisis? Without a doubt.

I'm imploring my colleagues to stop with the political melodrama so that we can focus on supporting the administration in its data-driven response to combatting this crisis and protecting our constituents.

Many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have proposed useful legislation – some of which is available at www.pahouse.com/Hanbidge/News/?id=115154 – to tackle the swath of problems facing the commonwealth, but they are gathering dust in committees. These are bills, including some I have personally introduced, focusing on public health and bolstering our economy.

Now, more than ever, is the time to come together and pass legislation that seeks to protect our frontline and essential workers, pay them fairly, assist those struggling without employment, health care or child care, and, above all, keep our citizens safe.

If we want to show we deserve a seat at the table in determining the future of our response to the novel coronavirus, we need to stop posturing and get the real work done for the people we represent.