PA GOP says current COVID outbreak not an emergency, and is fundraising off of it | Pittsburgh City Paper

PA GOP says current COVID outbreak not an emergency, and is fundraising off of it

Last week, virtually everyone in Pennsylvania who owns a cell phone received a public safety alert, warning them about the rapidly rising coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the state. The alert was apparently sent through the emergency alert system, and it asked people to stay home and social distance to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

“In PA, COVID-19 are rising & hospitals could soon be at capacity,” read the alert, which was sent out on Nov. 25. “Stay home if possible. If you must go out, maintain social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands for 20 seconds. Stay up to date on the spread of COVID in your community so you can protect your loved one with the COVID Alert PA app.”

To the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, this was a violation so dire it was worth sending out its own mass message. On Nov. 30, the PA GOP sent its followers an email, one filled with embellishments and dubious claims about what constitutes an emergency.
The email claims that Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) “ordered” people to not leave their homes. This is false. Gov. Wolf and his Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine advised Pennsylvanians to stay home and avoid traveling during the Thanksgiving break. This was an advisory, not an order, and Pennsylvanians were not even advised to stop essential travel like for work, shopping, or other activities.

“Emergency text alerts are meant for just that, emergencies!” reads the PA GOP email. “Many of us looked at our phones upon receiving this alert expecting an Amber Alert or severe weather warning. Instead it was just Tom Wolf telling us not to leave our houses.”

The PA GOP email ends with a request for donations.

Of course, Pennsylvania is still in a state of emergency. Wolf extended the state’s emergency declaration last week. Additionally, many hospitals throughout the state are experiencing large numbers of coronavirus patients.

The PA GOP sent out their email claiming “government overreach” the day before infectious disease doctor Amesh Adalja tweeted that the rate of COVID patients at a hospital just outside of Pittsburgh was not sustainable. Pittsburgh-area hospitals recently set a record for how many coronavirus patients they have treated.

A request for comment from the PA GOP went unanswered.

Wolf is not the only governor to utilize emergency text alerts to warn residents about COVID spread. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, also sent out a coronavirus warning last week using a text alert. And Hogan’s alert actually warned of enforcement actions, while Pennsylvania’s did not. 

J.J. Abbott is the former spokesperson for Gov. Wolf and current head of the progressive advocacy group Commonwealth Communications. He says the PA GOP email is another attempt to spread misinformation about the pandemic and downplay COVID-19.

“Pennsylvania Republicans have done more than just about anyone to spread misinformation about the virus and downplay the risk,” says Abbott. “And now we are seeing the consequences of it play out with more suffering and trauma for families and frontline workers. This email is just another slap in the face, even as their party blocks relief that could keep people safe and protect small businesses and workers.”

Last week, Pittsburgh politicians pleaded with Pennsylvania Republicans to pass a bill that would provide economic relief to the state’s restaurant and service industry, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus. The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s last day of the session was Nov. 30, and no bills were passed. The legislature doesn’t meet again until January 2021.