HONESDALE, PA — Elected officials and local business owners in Wayne County are anxious for Gov. Tom Wolf to shift the county from red to yellow in his three-phase plan for reopening Pennsylvania. While more than half of PA has been scheduled for a gradual reopening, stay-at-home orders remain in place for northeast counties.
Officials and local business owners held a press conference on Wednesday, May 13 to plead their case for reopening Wayne County.
“We see this wave of appeals being made across the commonwealth; some of those appeals and addresses have been harsh, critical, crass and maybe even uncivil, ” Rep. Jonathan Fritz said to the small crowd that had assembled. “But Wayne County’s approach is a little different… in these trying and polarizing times, I’m going to use the word ‘please.’ Gov. Wolf, please examine the data, and help us move forward with reopening Wayne County.”
Commissioners Brian Smith, Joe Adams and Jocelyn Cramer all spoke during the press conference, which Smith called a “respectful articulation of the facts and the figures and the demographics of Wayne County, that we believe will be moving us—in the very near future—into the yellow phase.”
Cramer said that she feels that Wayne County is extremely close to being permitted to move to yellow, which she said would allow “virtually 70 to 80 percent of our economy to reopen.”
“Please know that we are literally spending hours on this a day to just make the case for that, and we truly believe that we are [very] close,” she said.
Adams laid out some data which he believes justifies moving into the yellow phase soon.
“Five of the last nine days, we have had zero new cases,” he said. “The whole point of flattening the curve was not to overwhelm the healthcare system… there are 25 rooms that are dedicated with all of the technical equipment at Wayne Memorial, and right now there are two COVID[-19] in-patients at Wayne Memorial; there are 25 ventilators ready to go and none of them are being used; the max that Wayne Memorial has had at the peak of this virus in April was 12.”
Adams also noted that none of the three correctional facilities in the county have seen any cases, and he said that the area’s nursing homes are “way above average” in COVID-19 response compared to the rest of PA.
Executive director of the Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO) Mary Beth Wood also provided some statistics, illustrating what she called an “unsustainable trajectory.” This March, Wayne County submitted 818 unemployment claims to the state, by April, the claims shot up to 4,214.
“Now folks, that’s a quarter of our labor force. To put it in perspective, in January our unemployment rate was 5.3 percent,” she said. She also said that according to statewide data, 86 percent of small businesses are not able to withstand losing two-months revenue. PA is quickly approaching the two-month mark of the stay-at-home order, she said, and 85 percent of Wayne County businesses have nine or fewer employees, 67 percent have four or fewer.
“We simply must start looking at a plan for recovery,” she said.
Chamber of the Northern Poconos board chairman Vince Benedetto said that all local businesses are essential and that all are life-sustaining for the families and employees who rely on them.
“I call upon our state and local governments, to allow those businesses who can properly operate under the recommended safety guidelines—and wish to open—be allowed to do so immediately, before we lose any more of our precious employers,” he said.
Several of those employers, including Jim Shook of the Lake Region IGA and Wayne and Todd Stephens of Stephens Pharmacy, spoke as well. Shook noted that in about a week, the county needs to be prepared to receive the influx of second-home owners who spend their summers in Wayne County.
Todd Stephens noted that big chain stores have been able to remain open throughout this pandemic while the Main Street businesses have been forced to close up shop.
“Right now the big box stores and the chains own customers that really belong to Main Street,” he said. “We need to change this, and we’re certainly at the ready and willing to help other businesses learn how to open their businesses in a safe and healthy manner.”
District Attorney A.G. Howell reported that Wayne County has had zero citations for residents or businesses violating the mandated COVID-19 guidelines.
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