Wolf administration not as transparent as governor pledged

The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf has, to a large extent, ignored the press and the state Legislature throughout the COVID-19 Disaster Declaration as information was requested on what criteria, data and processes were being used in its decision-making and policy formation.

This is just plain wrong.

The people of Pennsylvania have every right to be told what is going on. Failure to disclose this type of information leaves us all in the dark during what for many has been the scariest time of our lives.

Agencies in Wolf’s administration stopped processing public records requests a full two months ago, allowing the government to operate in secrecy with no public recourse. This includes the state Department of Health (DOH). Even the case numbers being released by the DOH have been inflated, by admission of Secretary of Health Rachel Levine during a recent Senate hearing.

At least 19 county coroners, including Lycoming’s Charles E. Kiessling Jr., have questioned the numbers, which the Wolf administration is using in making decisions related to the state lockdown.

A local lawmaker, state Rep. Garth Everett, a Republican who represents much of our area, has been trying to get information from DOH in regard to the situation at Manor Care in Jersey Shore.

Everett would like to know what, if anything, the department does when a hot spot such as Manor Care is identified in a nursing home. Nursing homes have had among the highest rates of illness and deaths from this coronavirus. Everett emailed the department a couple of times on this issue since May 6 and did not get a response for six days. The initial response was limited, and additional communications have failed to yield important information such as numbers of residents and staff who were tested, sent to a hospital or died.

This is critical information that people have the right to know.

A bill passed earlier this month with near-unanimous support in the House would provide public access to government records during a disaster declaration such as COVID-19. Such a bill would provide information about how the local nursing home is being handled, along with other types of information people have tried to access since this began.

And it’s not just DOH. For instance, what considerations were given when deciding which businesses were deemed “essential” and provided waivers that allowed them to continue to operate during the crisis?

The impact of this bill would be to shed light. It needs to become law — expeditiously — and the state needs to start providing the type of information of importance to the public during this crisis.

This impacts the health of our communities, and no government should be able to make decisions about our health and then stay silent.

It’s time for Wolf truly to be the transparent governor he pledged he would be while on the campaign trail. A government of the people should not be opaque, yet that seems to be what it’s increasingly become.


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