By John L. Micek
For the Pittsburgh Current
Retiring Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, found himself playing defense this weekend for tweeting the percentage of Pennsylvanians with underlying conditions who died of COVID-19. It comes as Republicans who control the General Assembly are making a ramming-speed push to reopen the state.
Through midday Sunday, 3,707 state residents have lost their lives to the illness, according to Pennsylvania Department of Health data.
— Speaker Mike Turzai (@RepTurzai) May 9, 2020
Speaking to HuffPost, Turzai’s chief of staff, Neal Lesher, said the suburban Pittsburgh Republican was “simply reporting public health data that the Pennsylvania Department of Health should be reporting to the public, but is not.”
Lesher added that the data “exposes the vulnerability of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable population in nursing homes, personal care facilities, and assisted living facilities,” and for “anyone to suggest that the Speaker does not care about our vulnerable populations is either playing politics or not paying attention to what’s going on.”
Yes, it’s true, as HuffPost notes, Turzai is the sponsor of legislation that includes extra protections for nursing homes, which have turned into Ground Zero for COVID-19 fatalities in the state.
But those of us who have been paying attention, as Lesher suggests, have also noticed the Republican-controlled General Assembly’s haste to undo the Wolf administration’s stay at home orders — one of which netted a gubernatorial veto. Now, counties that aren’t out of the red zone have decided they’re going to reopen on their own — case and death counts be damned.
Residents of the Twitterverse took umbrage at Turzai’s comments, noting that many people have the underlying conditions listed in Turzai’s tweet, and wondered if the self-professed party of life somehow found them expendable.
— Rebecca Lynn (@Bex_Lyn) May 9, 2020
And it gets even better:
On Saturday night, as if daring fate to make hundreds, yes, hundreds, of people sick, state Rep. Mike Jones, R-York, whose legislative bio includes exactly zero public health expertise, held a reopening rally at a York County banquet hall, where mask-less people sat next to each other in violation of social distancing protocols, embraced, and shook hands.
The York Daily Record put the size of the crowd at more than150 people. Sharp-eyed reporter Scott Fisher noted that the there was a bird flying over the head of the rally goers, prompting one Facebook wag to wonder if it was a vulture.
“I think we got Wolf on the ropes,” he said, according to the York Daily Record. “The last 48 hours has been extremely encouraging. It’s just like a boxing match. It’s time to knock him out. Because when you call his bluff and you fight, they cave. They don’t have the horses. They don’t have the soldiers. They don’t have the guts. … The bark is way, way worse than the bite.”
Actually, one could credibly make the argument that dying on a ventilator, which is the risk that Jones and his fellow rally-goers just exposed themselves to, is far worse than a gubernatorial tongue-lashing. But just like Jones, I’m not a doctor.
And for the reopening nitwits, I’ll pose the same question I posed on Twitter last week: Which of your family members are you willing to put at risk so that the wheels of capitalism can start grinding again? Your daughter? Your son? A sibling? A spouse? A parent?
Yes, Pennsylvania has to reopen. And that’s happening now: Gradually and slowly, as the case counts dictate.
Sunday was Mother’s Day. And tens of thousands of people across the country woke up to a day where a mother, a grandmother, an aunt, a wife, or a sister wasn’t there. And maybe some of them had underlying conditions. That doesn’t make that loss any easier to bear.
Yes, it’s an American tragedy jobless rates at at their highest since the Great Depression.
And, yes, those who are struggling need every measure of assistance that government can deliver to them and every ounce of support from the nation. But putting even one life at risk a moment before it’s necessary is not only criminally stupid, it compounds the tragedy, and it insults the memory of the dead.
And it guarantees another Mother’s Day with fewer mothers. One more empty spot at the table. One more grieving family.
Is it worth it? Really?
John L. Micek is the editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star where this story first appeared.