More than 100 people took part in a rally Saturday in Unity to express frustration with Gov. Tom Wolf’s remaining covid-19-related restrictions on businesses.
Many, but not all, of the demonstrators wore face coverings, which are recommended by officials to control the spread of the coronavirus. Receiving honks from many passing motorists on Route 30, participants held up signs declaring everything from “All jobs are essential” to “Impeach Wolf.”
Sharky’s Cafe co-owner Jamie Huemme argued that Wolf’s restrictions on some types of Westmoreland County businesses, under the “yellow” phase of his economic restart that began Friday in most of the region, aren’t warranted by the level of covid-19 cases in the county.
“We’re less than 1% of the total (state) count of cases,” she said. But, in the yellow phase, she pointed out, salons, gyms and movie theaters are to remain closed while restaurants are limited to providing take-out and delivery services.
According to state figures posted Saturday, Westmoreland County has 423 confirmed positive covid-19 cases, out of more than 61,600 cases across the state. There have been 32 deaths in the county; at least 27 came in nursing homes.
Huemme, who helped organize the rally in Sharky’s parking lot, expressed hope the event will help motivate state officials to move the county soon into the least restrictive “green” phase of Wolf’s restart plan.
Local officials agreed with Huemme’s message.
“Our hope is the governor will see there are so many passionate people out there in the business community that are losing their livelihoods” under the restrictions, said Unity Supervisor Mike O’Barto, another rally organizer. “We need to get them to open up in a sensible way, and they know how to do that.”
“The businesses along Route 30 are life-sustaining to many people, and they need to open up,” said Doug Weimer, a supervisor in neighboring Hempfield. “Lift all these restrictions and let us get back to normal life.”
Lora Reich of Derry Township came to the rally to support the local businesses she misses.
“I want to get my hair cut, and I want to go out to eat,” she said. “I’m not afraid.”
Lisa Pope of Latrobe operates a business in the mental health care field that has been deemed essential and hasn’t been subject to the same covid-19 restrictions as other enterprises. She attended the rally to argue the restrictions endanger civil liberties.
She said such rallies “help us to burn off frustration and steam. This increases awareness, maybe. But the real change is going to come with our lawmakers.”
Local state legislators, including Republicans Sen. Kim Ward and Rep. Eric Nelson and Democrat Rep. Joseph Petrarca, all noted they’ve voted for legislation intended to permit opening of businesses still closed under Wolf’s plan.
Ward suggested residents could help such legislation by pressuring Wolf to support it.
Nelson said negotiations are under way with the Wolf administration.
“We want to work to expand the yellow (guidelines) while we work to protect those who are most vulnerable,” Nelson said, referring to the elderly and residents of extended care facilities who have suffered harsh effects from the virus.
“It’s a step in the right direction that we moved into this yellow phase, but we need to expand what that means, to pick up more of our businesses,” Petrarca said.
He said it doesn’t make sense dentists are able to resume non-emergency care but hair salons, which he suggests could similarly provide protection for their clients, are to remain closed in the yellow phase of Wolf’s plan.
“I think the governor is trying to do the right thing, to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians,” Petrarca said, “but I think it’s time that we find a way to get businesses open. I think businesses can open in a safe way, to take care of the public but still be able to make the income they need to sustain their businesses and families.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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