Pennsylvania governor threatens 'consequences' for counties that violate his order as Trump pushes him to open 'quickly'

"This is not a time to give up," Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted. "This is not time to surrender."
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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice in Philadelphia on Feb. 28, 2020.Bastiaan Slabbers / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

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By Allan Smith

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday there will be "consequences" for counties that violate his stay-at-home orders and reopening plan as President Donald Trump took to Twitter to push Wolf to "move quickly" toward lifting restrictions.

"I won't sit back and watch residents who live in counties under Stay at Home orders get sick because local leaders cannot see the risks of #COVID19 and push to reopen prematurely," Wolf tweeted. "Today I am announcing consequences for counties that do not abide by the law to remain closed."

Wolf, a Democrat, said noncompliant counties will be blocked from getting discretionary federal stimulus funds and said moving against his orders could lead to businesses being sued or losing their liquor licenses.

"If your county reopens prematurely and you don't feel comfortable returning to work, rest assured that the commonwealth will allow you to continue to receive unemployment compensation, even if your employer reopens," he said. "The dangers associated with #COVID19 may not be readily visible to all, but they are present. We are fighting a war that has taken the lives of too many people. And we're winning. The politicians who are encouraging us to quit the fight are acting in a most cowardly way."

"This is not a time to give up," he continued. "This is not time to surrender. This is a time to rededicate ourselves to the task of beating this virus."

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The governor's tweets came as multiple counties threatened to begin reopening in the face of his orders and after Trump called on him to expedite the reopening.

"The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails," Trump said. "The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes. They would wait until November 3rd if it were up to them. Don't play politics. Be safe, move quickly!"

Later Monday at a White House news conference, Trump named Pennsylvania in saying "there seems to be no effort on certain blue states to get back into gear."

Trump's tweet came as the White House is dealing with the fallout after an aide to Vice President Mike Pence and one of Trump's personal valets tested positive for COVID-19, leading Pence to distance himself from the White House over the weekend and a trio of top officials on the White House coronavirus task force to quarantine. At a major Senate hearing Tuesday on reopening the country, top witnesses, as well as the committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will attend remotely, as they are in self-quarantine because of possible exposure to the virus.

Wolf's plan for Pennsylvania has counties moving through phases of reopening. Twenty-four northern counties were placed in the "yellow" phase of reopening late last week, while 13 more counties in the western part of the state are to enter the yellow phase Friday.

But some southern Pennsylvania counties — still in the "red," or most restrictive, phase — say they will soon start reopening regardless of what Wolf says.

"We prefer to act with your cooperation, but we intend to move forward with a plan to restore Lancaster County," Lancaster County leaders, who plan to begin reopening Friday, wrote in a letter to Wolf. "Governor, we don't question your motives, however given all that has unfolded over the past several weeks, we must question your methods. We believe we share the same goals: public health, safety and an economy that can begin to recover."

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The Keystone State has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the country, with 3,731 as of Monday, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In all, 57,154 cases have been confirmed, concentrated mostly in the southeastern part of the state. Some of the counties pushing to reopen have some of the higher rates of cases per 100,000 people, according to the state agency.

It is one of several states where lawmakers, businesses or individuals sought to challenge a governor's authority to issue stay-at-home orders. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition against Wolf's order filed by a group of Pennsylvania businesses and spearheaded by Republican Danny DeVito — not the actor of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" fame, but a long-shot candidate for the state House.