COVID-19 has exacted a horrible toll on Pennsylvania. More than 35,000 Pennsylvanians have tested positive, 2,700 remain hospitalized, and sadly 1,622 people have lost their lives, including more than 800 residents of nursing and assisted living homes.
COVID-19 is an economic disaster as well. More than 1.6 million new unemployment claims have been submitted in the last five weeks. The great majority of small businesses – which account for half of our state’s jobs – have closed or significantly curtailed operations.
As Governor Wolf has said, we are flattening the curve. I have heard from many doctors and other professionals in the medical community who believe broad, stay-at-home measures should remain in place for some time. Some of these professionals are longtime friends of mine. I trust and respect their opinion. Their expertise is needed as we chart a way forward for Pennsylvania.
I have also heard from another group whom I trust and respect regarding the measures now in place – small business owners in my district. These people own and operate bars and restaurants, insurance agencies, small retail stores, service stations, child care facilities, lawn and garden centers, and all variety of other businesses. This emergency has devastated them and the hardworking men and women they employ.
There are few obligations that compare with the knowledge that others depend on you for their livelihood and welfare of their family. Just as we must consider the expertise of medical professionals, we are obligated to do the same with the struggle of those fighting to save their businesses and the jobs of the hardworking men and women they employ.
Permit me to also note that I am grateful for Governor Wolf’s commitment to protecting the health and lives of Pennsylvanians. I do not question that his decisions to close down much of the commonwealth were correct and saved lives. However, as legislators we have an obligation to our constituents to exercise our oversight responsibility. That obligation cannot be suspended by an emergency. Indeed, during exceptional times, it is important that we exercise that responsibility with even greater diligence.
I thank those who will be testifying here today. Along with Senator Regan, Senator Williams, Senator Iovino, and the other senators participating today, we are committed to safely restarting Pennsylvania’s economy and safely getting Pennsylvanians back to work.