The candlestick maker.
Turn them out, knaves all three"
That's essentially what has happened with Governor Tom Wolf's March 19 Executive Order closing all non-life-sustaining businesses. All business is life-sustaining, especially to those in it. Small entrepreneurs and gig workers are still unable to file claims for unemployment, even though the CARES Act specifically provides for it. Telephone calls are useless because the lines are jammed. "Turn them out knaves, all three" is how the Governor has responded to the plight of small business, the backbone of this country. Those who think businesses can be opened with precautions like social distancing and face masks are derided as "virus deniers" or worse, as the myrmidons of Donald Trump. They are called selfish and accused of having blood on their hands. When Wolf finally sounds "all clear," many of these business will be unable to open again. They are victims, not of contagious disease, but an overzealous Big Brother that even wants you to rat out businesses that fail to adhere to state edicts. Where are the deaths that are actually being caused by the Covid-19 pandemic? They are not coming from those who are outdoors. They are not coming from essential businesses on the front lines. They are coming from nursing homes.
Last week, the Department of Health (DOH) announced that over 65% of the Covid-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes. According to Northampton County's Covid-19 dashboard, 55 of the County's 107 deaths have been at nursing homes. Between residents and staff, they account for nearly a third of all cases countywide. Amazingly, that's where the Department of Health (DOH) has really failed. Using the powers she actually has under the Disease Act, Secretary Rachel Levine could easily quarantine those who've been infected, and isolate residents who have come into contact with them. This would be a rational response.
Instead, Secretary Levine ordered nursing homes to continue accepting new residents, including those just released from the hospital for Covid-19. As Attorney Marc Scaringi observes in his argument to the Supreme Court,
This decision by the Secretary of Health may have proved deadly to many nursing home residents because the virus spread like wildfire in Pennsylvania’s nursing homes. The American Health Care Association said at the time that that directive put “frail and older adults who reside in nursing homes at risk” and would “result in more people going to the hospital and more deaths.”Unfortunately, that's exactly what has happened. Moreover, Scaringi notes that the state DOH has actually suspended its usual inspections.
Since the beginning of this pandemic, we've known this respiratory virus is most virulent to the elderly. Instead of dealing with that very real public health concern, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary Levine have put 1.7 million healthy employed Pennsylvanians on the sidelines, to say nothing of those who are self-employed in small business.
Government at its best.
In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Scaringi has attached affidavits from several small business owners adversely impacted by the Levine Lockdown:
- Stephen Cassel is the co-owner of Iacobucci Formal Wear, located in Havertown. His business sells and rents formal wear. He is the father of five children and has no income other than this business. He has yet to see a dime from the state or federal government. He has lost at least $200,000 and his insurance claim for business interruption has been denied. He is behind in rent and is unsure he can survive much longer.
- Nichole Mesino owns and operates a barber shop in Media, with seven barbers. None has worked since March 16. None has received a dime from the government. She has no income other than this business, and is behind on rent. "Another month of the governor's shutdown and I'll be done; I'll lose my business." She considered re-opening with elaborate precautions, but was told her license would be revoked.
- John Williams, a Delaware County realtor, states that the Spring selling season is when he earns most of his money for the year. He adds that prospective home buyers are unwilling to purchase a home unless they can physically inspect a property. He is one of 12,000 real estate agents idled in the Delaware Valley. He did get a $1,000 grant from the Small Business Administration, but nothing from the state.
- Karen Myers is a dance and gymnastics instructor in Chester County, with two locations. Though her studios are large and she could implement CDC protocols, she is unable to operate. Unless things change, she will have to close her business this month and sell her equipment at "fire sale" prices.