Guest Editorial: More Pennsylvanians vaccinated will help fight the coronavirus

The Wolf administration is right to point out that having more Pennsylvanians vaccinated is the best strategy to fight COVID-19 and avoid shutdown of schools, businesses and other institutions.

The administration said Jan. 11 that it has no plans to pursue another COVID-19 emergency declaration, or attempt new statewide mitigation measures or vaccine mandates, as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads quickly and overloads Pennsylvania’s hospitals.

“We are not considering further mitigation at this time,” Acting Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said at a news conference. Instead, she said, the Health Department is pushing more residents to get vaccinated and taking steps to support hospitals hit by severe staffing shortages and a wave of COVID-19 patients.

Gov. Tom Wolf, appearing on KDKA-AM radio in Pittsburgh, reiterated that vaccines are his administration’s strategy for fighting the spread of COVID-19.

“We can live lives a lot more freely than we could before and we don’t have to make the same harsh decisions we did two years ago. So we’re in a different place,” Wolf said.

If more Pennsylvanians are vaccinated, shutdowns particularly of schools will not be necessary. At the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago, Wolf ordered schools to shut down in-person instruction, issued a broad stay-at-home order, closed businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” and ordered masks to be worn indoors and in public places where social distancing was impossible.

The governor has limited authority to order another statewide shutdown after a pushback from Republican lawmakers and voters.

Voters handed more authority over emergency disaster declarations to the General Assembly, and the state Supreme Court ended Wolf’s masking order in schools and child care centers, saying it lacked legal justification after the Republican-controlled Legislature voted in June to terminate Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration.

“I think certainly the constitutional authorities that the governor and that the secretary of health have are different at this time, and we’ve certainly heard people’s perspectives that they would like to be able to make local decisions,” Klinepeter said Tuesday. “And so that’s really what we’re leaning on, is for people in local places of authority to make good public health decisions.”

The strategy of relying on increased vaccinations takes on a greater sense of urgency considering the fact that the Health Department expects new cases to peak in January, followed by a peak in hospitalizations in February and a peak in deaths in late February to early March.

Hospitals and nursing homes hit by severe staffing shortages have been sounding the alarm as largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients fill hospital beds. The Wolf administration said it is working to bring health care workers from out of state to help.

Statewide, more than 7,100 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, a pandemic record.

Republican lawmakers and voters who pushed back against statewide shutdowns should now be leading the push to get Pennsylvanians vaccinated.

Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune


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