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To Gov. Wolf: Adjust pandemic policies to match new reality

GUY BERKEBILE

Somerset

New information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently flipped the conversation around COVID-19 upside down.

The agency noted that 94 percent of what have been labeled COVID-19 fatalities involve, on average, 2.6 additional underlying health conditions or causes of death. In other words, the pandemic fatality data-which has been the focus of the news cycle since March-is misleading.

When the recent discovery is added to the arsenal of knowledge doctors and public health officials have already amassed, the known threat of COVID-19 is left significantly diminished. While we should all take the pandemic seriously, it’s clear the virus’ most severe consequences are reserved for a specific demographic: Older people and those with underlying health conditions. In Pennsylvania, more than 9 in 10 fatalities related to COVID-19 involve people over the age of 60; nearly 8 in 10 are over 70 years old.

Gov. Tom Wolf should adjust the state’s lockdown policies to adapt to the new reality; current rules are simply too strict given the relatively modest threat the virus poses to most residents. Allowing all businesses to operate under their own judgement and giving them the autonomy to implement safety protocols that best fit their operations should be the priority. Entrepreneurs know how best to protect their employees and consumers, not Big Brother.

It’s called personal responsibility.

For example, Gov. Wolf is still choking the state’s restaurants by enforcing an occupancy limit. Although the governor recently raised the indoor dining capacity to 50 percent, the policy remains too controlling.

These establishments already operate under razor thin budget margins; continuing to limit how many customers they can serve is the equivalent of a death sentence. While other businesses across the state have been given the green light to function more freely, there’s no proof that restaurants specifically are a major source of COVID-19 spread. In fact, less than 3 percent of cases in the state are traced back to restaurants.

If someone can go to Walmart, they should also be able to head to the nearby diner to grab a burger without being turned away because of capacity restrictions.

As a small business owner myself, I can attest firsthand to how establishments can operate safely. My company-which employs roughly 170 people-has functioned throughout the pandemic without major incident. Social distancing guidelines, frequent cleanings, face coverings and encouraging at-risk workers to remain home are among the protocols I implemented.

My business was also fortunate enough to recently host Vice President Mike Pence. By applying similar protocols, myself, staff and event attendees were able to remain safe and healthy.

The consequences of keeping some state businesses on a tight leash are widespread. Chief among them is a spiraling economy.

The state unemployment rate has jumped to the double digits because of the pandemic and nearly 700,000 residents who had a job in February don’t have one now. Keeping strict pandemic restrictions in place will only prolong the challenging economic conditions-which means minimal job opportunities, stagnant wages and the failure of more Main Street businesses that act as the lifeblood of communities across the Keystone State.

I don’t envy the position of Gov. Wolf or other state leaders across the country who are attempting to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. But given what we now know, I think the best strategy is a simple one: Give all businesses the freedom to protect their staff and customers as they see fit.

(Guy Berkebile is the owner of Guy Chemical in Somerset, Pa., and is a partner of the Job Creators Network Foundation.)

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