Northwestern Press

Thursday, May 28, 2020

County state of emergency extended

Thursday, May 21, 2020 by DOUGLAS GRAVES Special to The Press in Local News

Lehigh County Commissioners refused May 13 during an online meeting to take up a proposal by Commissioner Nathan Brown, a Republican.

Brown made a motion to pass a resolution in support a recent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf from state Rep. Lisa Boscola, D-18th, urging him to move from the coronavirus status red to yellow for Lehigh County and the Lehigh Valley.

Wolf has already announced the move for 37 of the commonwealth’s 67 counties, according to Boscola’s website.

Her recommendation was done “in consultation with infectious disease specialists at St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network.”

The push to move from red to yellow has political support and opposition from both sides of the political aisle in Lehigh County.

Brown’s motion came on the eve of President Donald Trump’s visit to Lehigh County where he urged residents to encourage Wolf to reopen the economy in Pennsylvania.

The other commissioners, six Democrats and two Republicans, did not second the motion, so it died without action.

Professor Robert Hoffman, of Fogelsville, phoned into the meeting to urge commissioners to support the motion.

Hoffman said the stay-at-home restrictions and subsequent economic losses would cause deaths through despair.

“We risk loss of precious life many, many magnitude greater lives will be lost though death by despair,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said he is a mental health practitioner and also a professor of psychology at Northampton Community College.

Commissioner David Harrington said his calculation is “90 percent of his constituents want to stick with the governor’s timeline.”

“It is a false choice to choose between despair deaths and COVID-19 deaths,” Harrington said.

Commissioners voted to extend Lehigh County’s COVID-19 related state of emergency order for 60 days to July 17.

The extension permits county officials to take further action during this crisis, including any necessary transfer of funds and to execute additional documents as they may deem appropriate.

Chief Clerk for Elections Timothy Benyo briefed commissioners on the status of preparations for the primary election on June 2.

According to Benyo, the COVID-19 crisis has caused some venues to back out of providing polling places.

According to the election official, 22 out of 160 polling places have decided not offer their spaces.

Benyo said he has the legal authority to relocate polling places as needed.

He warned voters will need to make sure their familiar or regular polling place is open on Election Day and if the polling location has been changed to get the new address and make arrangements to go to the correct location.

A second problem is a dramatic drop in the number of volunteers leaving officials asking the public to step up to man the many tasks associated with running an election.

More than a third of the normal 1,000 volunteers have dropped out citing COVID-19 fears and other factors, Benyo said.