Governor Tom Wolf COVID-19 Remarks April 17, 2020
April 18, 2020
Good afternoon and thank you for joining me.
When I was inaugurated in January of 2015, Pennsylvania was at a crossroads.
I asked Pennsylvanians to believe in their leaders, and in themselves.
I asked my colleagues to put aside partisan differences, and deliver a better Pennsylvania to the next generation.
We were well on our way.
Although there have been bumps and setbacks, we reinvested in our schools, we pulled our finances from the brink, we began to modernize our workforce development system, and we reinvigorated our election system.
Back then, when I asked for your trust, your patience, and your cooperation, no amount of imagination could have foreseen what I and reality have asked of you in the last month.
I asked for you to close schools and businesses, cancel large events, stay at home, all in an effort to simply keep our friends, our neighbors, our families, our coworkers, alive.
That request cuts deeper than just a change of routine, and brings worry, anxiety, and distress.
But there is no higher service than helping each other survive
I will be forever grateful for your courage, compassion, and speed as we prepared.
Despite uncertainty, Pennsylvanians acted collectively, not because of any order, but because we care deeply for each other.
Now I am asking again for you to believe in our Commonwealth.
This time, I am asking for you to stay the course.
Before we can build a better commonwealth, we need to protect our
friends and neighbors.
What you’re doing is avoiding the most catastrophic of circumstances, but our ability to prevail remains tenuous.
We still rank fifth in the nation for confirmed cases.
Forty-two days have passed since we identified the first COVID-19 case in Pennsylvania and began our aggressive mitigation efforts.
Every Pennsylvanian has made sacrifices.
The bars and restaurants that used to be an escape are closed.
We canceled concerts, basketball games, weddings, family gatherings.
We closed schools. Entire sports seasons were wiped away.
Ceremonies and performances were abruptly canceled.
We implemented a no-visitor policy in our correctional facilities and nursing homes.
We can’t visit our most vulnerable friends and family at our most fearful time.
We closed thousands of businesses.
I owned a business my entire adult life.
I know that your coworkers aren’t just your colleagues and your business isn’t just a building or a paycheck.
It’s a way of life, it’s a family, it’s a group of people who you spend more time with than anyone else.
It’s a support system.
It’s comfort and stability.
And we asked Pennsylvanians to stay in our homes for weeks, leaving only to get essential items like groceries and medications.
These efforts have shown signs of success, and gave some security and safety for those who have been or otherwise would have been afflicted by this virus.
We have not had the explosive growth experienced by our neighboring states thanks to your sacrifices.
And because of our collective efforts, we will likely avoid the horrid reality we’ve seen in places like Italy.
But, we still have between 1,000 and 2,000 new cases daily and a national shortage of testing materials.
Many patients who contracted COVID-19 one or two weeks ago now need hospitalization.
And, more and more families across Pennsylvania are losing their loved ones.
But even amidst this despair, I have hope.
Pennsylvanians are tough.
We are steadfast.
We are resilient.
Over the next few weeks, we will need to continue our social distancing efforts, while continuing to plan for phased reopening.
But it’s not the time to become complacent.
And as we remain steadfast, I am asking you for hope, and the fortitude to protect your commonwealth and believe in a safe, prosperous future.
There is no magic wand to wave to get us there. I will work, every day, to repair the damage this virus has caused and I am going to fight, every day, to keep Pennsylvanians alive.
I want to get started on the work we need to do to build a new Commonwealth and to get our lives back.
But before we collectively do so, I want to share with you a plan for Relief, Reopening, and Recovery.
The challenges before us look insurmountable.
While we’ve worked hard to provide relief, we still have a lot of work to do.
We’ve had more people file for unemployment in a shorter timeframe than ever before in our history.
I’m working to bring our customer service up to meet this challenge.
We’re bringing on more staff to answer calls.
We’re using new technology to get through phone calls.
And soon business owners and freelancers, who have never been eligible before, will be able to apply for unemployment.
We stopped tax enforcement actions, liens, and penalties.
We’ve changed the tax deadline.
We’re working with banks, the courts, and the Attorney General’s office to protect people from foreclosures, evictions, late fees, and more.
We’ve worked to provide millions of additional meals, we cut red tape so people can get food benefits faster, and we’re investing millions to make sure people are able to access nutritious food for free.
Student loans through federally-backed programs or PHEAA have deferred payments.
It’s just a start, and we’re going to work every day to make sure every Pennsylvanian gets what they need during this difficult time.
Never have we had a forced stop of our economy and workforce.
Pennsylvania’s businesses are in an unprecedented position, many shuttered across the state to protect against the spread of the deadly coronavirus, others changing their entire business plans around to help meet the many needs of people across the state, and protect their employees and customers.
We created a state business loan program, and we’re working with the federal government to make sure their small business loan program works.
But we need to do more.
Our hospitals have borne the brunt of this pandemic and we need to do more to assist and improve our healthcare system.
We made every possible effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and ensure our health care system can withstand the ramp-up, surge, and aftermath of this deadly pandemic.
We provided $450 million by creating the Pennsylvania Hospital Emergency Loan, or HELP Program, and we worked with the legislature to transfer $50 million to purchase medical equipment and supplies for hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency workers to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout this crisis, our healthcare workers have been heroes.
From the nurses, to janitors, to doctors, to the thousands of support staff, they have kept our hospital systems running as admissions have surged.
Our researchers and universities are seeking a vaccine and changing their materials program to make masks, gloves, or gowns.
We’ve seen the best of Pennsylvania in our health care workers and we need to repay them by staying home, staying safe, and supporting their efforts.
We’ve done our best to provide relief, and we need to start talking about reopening.
Last night, President Trump laid out guidelines for reopening America.
For weeks, my administration has been at work on a plan to reopen Pennsylvania, and we’re going to make sure we have a plan that respects the reality of the situation on the ground and works with our local, regional, and federal partners.
All of us are anxious to reopen the commonwealth.
As a former business owner, I deeply share the concerns of some in the legislature, but we cannot exacerbate the pandemic’s damage on Pennsylvania.
We need to be careful and deliberate.
We need the flexibility to react to new outbreaks.
Unfortunately, we cannot flip a switch and reopen the commonwealth.
There won’t be one big day.
We need to make smart, data driven decisions.
We can’t be impulsive.
We can’t be emotional.
We need to follow the science.
So when we reopen we’re going to do it with the following standards.
First, our approach will be data driven.
We will rely upon quantifiable criteria to drive a targeted, evidence-based, regional approach to reopenings in Pennsylvania.
Second, we will put forth guidance and recommendations for employers, individuals, and health care facilities for assured accountability as we reopen.
Third, reopening necessitates that adequate personal protective equipment and testing are available.
Fourth, reopening requires a monitoring and surveillance program that allows the commonwealth to deploy swift actions for containment or mitigation.
Fifth, protections for vulnerable populations must remain steadfast throughout the reopening process, such as limitations on visitors to congregate care facilities and prisons.
Sixth, limitations on large gatherings unrelated to occupations should remain in place for the duration of the reopening process.
These are actions we are undertaking and the standards we’ll use to make our decisions.
Next week, I will be outlining more specific steps on the reopening process as we work with experts in public health, agencies, and stakeholders to determine how to safely reopen our economy.
There’s not one policy, one answer, one ideology that can solve all of our problems ahead on the road to recovery.
But I’m offering the framework of a plan to increase wages for all Pennsylvanians, enact better worker protections, expand paid sick and family leave policies, and increase safe, affordable, and high-quality child care.
We need to strengthen the unemployment and workers compensation insurance systems.
Let’s expand student loan deferments to provide relief for individuals who are on the front lines.
And we must expand rapid re-employment programs to support businesses and workers affected by mass layoffs.
This pandemic caused significant hardship for many Pennsylvanians, but it also revealed underlying hardship for many
The countless workers who deliver food, who stock shelves or who work a register have always been essential to our economy – but never has it been more clear than now how essential they are to our way of life.
They’ve put their health on the line to make sure we have essential supplies, and while they certainly deserve our gratitude, they also deserve a living wage.
As Pennsylvania’s economy recovers from this virus, thousands of Pennsylvanians will face a road to
recovery of their own.
As of today, there have been nearly thirty thousand cases of COVID-19 in our state.
The vast majority of those patients will recover, but this virus is new – we don’t yet know much about what, if any, long term effects it can have.
We should change the law to give Pennsylvanians the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter what happens at the federal level, they won’t be denied health insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition like COVID, or subjected to arbitrary lifetime or annual caps on care.
Some industries have been hit particularly hard, such as hospitality, child care, and manufacturing.
We need targeted programs for each to help get them back on their feet. And we need to think beyond this crisis so that we build an economy that’s stronger and more resilient.
For our hospitality industry, we must pass rigorous financial support for small businesses, both short term to limit the number of businesses closing their doors for good while we shelter in place, and long term as small businesses restructure and recover.
Child care providers, many of whom already earn disproportionately low incomes, have been forced to close across the state.
Some advocates believe that more than one third of child care providers will be forced to permanently shut their doors due to lack of revenue.
And yet, we know that as the economy begins to come alive again in the future, we will need child care providers to help us care for our children so we can return to work.
We must ensure their wages are fair and protections are in place for providers in the future.
And let’s not forget about the importance of our agriculture industry, which suffered a severe disruption in its supply chain.
Recovery must ensure the certainty and future of Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry to continue to produce a safe, secure food supply.
Lastly, it’s past time to invest, upgrade, and extend Pennsylvania’s broadband network to ensure all Pennsylvanians have access to the internet.
It’s smart for businesses, schools, and people.
There are going to be many more ideas on how to recover.
These are mine, but I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and I’m going to need everyone to contribute to our recovery.
We are in control of our destiny.
Pennsylvania can alleviate this crisis, if we choose to do so.
The standards and actions I’ve outlined can help people, safeguard our health care system, and jumpstart our economy when the time is right.
But moving to reopen large swaths of our economy now, or reducing our flexibility to respond, will only prolong this crisis.
So let’s focus on things that are productive to save lives, and get our economy back on track when the time is right, in a measured way.
For years now, the legislature and the administration have worked together.
And just recently we moved our primary election to keep voters safer.
We also created a loan program for small businesses and a fund to prepare our hospitals for the surge.
I’m asking the legislature to work with me to build on our success.
Because right now, I need your help. And right now, we’re not Republicans, and we’re not Democrats.
And Pennsylvanians deserve, and should expect, nothing less throughout the life of this crisis.
Pennsylvanians are innovative, we’re strong, we’re survivors.
Pennsylvanians have set the course of the nation, we stopped previous pandemics in their tracks, we’ve built machines that have won wars and changed economies.
I think back to our predecessors who were met with similar crises, and I can only imagine that they looked to our commonwealth with hope, pride, and optimism.
In my five years as governor, I have never been more proud of our commonwealth, and I have never been more lifted by the spirit of our people. Nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, transit workers, police, EMS, those who have fought through the fear and fog of uncertainty.
Manufacturers who have changed their businesses to help provide those on the frontlines what they need.
I look back in our history, I see setbacks, I see pain, I see challenges that looked impossible, I see pandemics, wars, recessions.
But each time we have risen.
Each time Pennsylvania has not only pulled itself up, but led the nation.
We cured polio.
We armed our nation for world wars.
Let’s be that example again.
Let’s stay home, stay safe, and then let’s lead, let’s build, and let’s change the world around us.
Thank you, and God bless the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.