By Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware)
COVID-19 is our new reality for the foreseeable future, and we must continue to act accordingly. During the initial outbreak, I supported the shutdowns to assess the situation and ensure that our hospitals were not overrun. In fact, after a potential exposure in my office, I became the first state representative to close my office in Pennsylvania.
As we began to see the impacts of the pandemic, and quickly realized what needed to be done to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable populations, I began to understand that the reopening of our economy would require careful adherence to guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I sought more information from Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration and worked in bipartisan fashion to see that small businesses could reopen safely.
Our hospitals must remain our focus. We must follow the science, which tells us that 80% of society will contract COVID-19 or receive a vaccine before the virus is going to abate. We know this, but we also need to continue to slow the spread so that we do not overwhelm our hospitals and can save as many lives as possible.
Safety is the key priority. While many states across the country are seeing renewed outbreaks due to reopening, protests and other public activities, Pennsylvania has not seen drastic spikes. This is great news, but we must continue to be vigilant. If you do not feel safe in public, please try your best to stay home. I encourage businesses to work with employees who have increased health risks and make their safety a top priority. Further, as we continue to venture out into public and attempt to resume our “normal” lives, I encourage everyone to wear a mask when appropriate.
It is unfortunate that wearing masks has become so politicized. If you are in favor of reopening, you should be in favor of individuals wearing masks, because reducing the rate of spread helps prevent the return of strict government regulations and business closures that are now occurring in other states. More importantly, wearing a mask while in public is a demonstration of common courtesy. It acknowledges that some members of our community or their loved ones face severe health risks due to their age or pre-existing conditions, if they contract the virus. Wearing a mask shows compassion toward our neighbors, who have different personal circumstances, which are potentially more dire than our own.
The politicization of safety protocols and protective measures is exacerbated by unilateral decision making, a lack of transparency, and an absence of collaboration at the state level. Gov. Wolf’s very first policy during the pandemic was to offer a waiver process for businesses to remain open. The process was shrouded in secrecy and waivers were granted haphazardly, at best, and for politically motivated reasons, at worst. Further, he made the decision to force COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes, which not only expedited spread, but also cost the lives of many loved ones in Pennsylvania. Senior citizens are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 and his decision did not protect them. He made all these decisions without input from the Legislature, and even at times denied the Legislature a seat at the table. I have made these frustrations and others known to the public as well as to the governor and his administration. In fact, I believe some of my correspondence may have even influenced some positive policy changes that he made as this pandemic progressed. This is not to say that I have all the answers, but simply that more heads are better than one. This is why Gov. Wolf should involve the Legislature. A diversity of ideas, perspectives and districts – all with unique needs – will lead to better decision making. The people of Pennsylvania must feel as though they have a voice in this process through their local legislators, which is, after all, the purpose of our representative form of government. This will increase public confidence toward whatever recommendations come next.
I mention these missteps to learn from these mistakes and forge a new path of cooperation and bipartisanship. My current message of unity does not come from an ignorance of the politics of COVID-19, but rather a desire to focus on what is needed now as we begin the next stage of our efforts to fight this disease. My policy disagreements have not stopped me from listening to the science behind personal protective measures such as mask wearing, and working toward the improved public health outcomes that result. We must move past partisanship to make public safety the top priority, and judge every new protocol and policy on its own merits, and not on its controversial messenger.
While individuals in my district and across the state implement social distancing and mask wearing, my colleagues and I in Harrisburg continue to encourage the governor to increase transparency and make decisions with broad consensus. Being the leader during a historic pandemic is not an easy task. I would have done things differently from the governor, and may have made mistakes, too. I am willing to renew a sense of collaboration in Harrisburg and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me. We must move on, stay focused, and do better. We must work toward what is best for all Pennsylvanians.
This pandemic will likely continue for months or longer until a vaccine is readily available, or the majority of the public has contracted the disease. Yes, masks may be uncomfortable, social distancing may be inconvenient, and other safety protocols may be annoying. However, these measures can and will slow the spread of the disease, keep our economy open, and help us live our lives as close to normal as possible. If we take the necessary precautions, we can protect both our collective personal health and our economic health. I hope you and your families stay well during this uncertain period. Please take care of yourself and each other!
Representative Chris Quinn
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman