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Gov. Wolf needs to announce all the benchmarks for moving to yellow

Over the past few weeks, Gov. Tom Wolf has revealed what would be required for counties to qualify for progression to the next step of his phased reopening plan for Pennsylvania. He said a region or county could not exceed a total of 50 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents over a period of 14 consecutive days. He also said the ability for sufficient testing and contact tracing would be necessary.

Naturally, because 50 per 100,000 is a hard figure that people with basic math skills can use to figure out if a county qualifies, county officials started crunching numbers to determine if they meet the standard.

But as Wolf has now twice announced lists of counties moving to yellow, some that were left off the lists were surprised given their counties stayed below the 50 per 100,000 mark — like Mifflin and Juniata.

When asked why some counties in this instance didn’t get the OK to go yellow, Wolf and those in his administration have said it’s not just the number of cases, but other factors are in play, too — presumably the aforementioned testing and contact tracing capabilities.

There’s one problem with that, however. Wolf has never told the public how much testing and contact tracing is “enough” in his eyes.

Even trying to make inferences proves determining how much is “enough” is an impossible task. For example, some counties that have already gone yellow don’t have hospitals. How could those counties possibly test enough people? Conversely, some counties that meet the 50 per 100,000 standard and are stuck on red have hospitals with testing capacity — like Mifflin. Why can’t those counties open? And how can any part of the state have enough ability for contact tracing when the governor himself has said the state needs to hire exponentially more workers to perform that task?

How are counties supposed to be assured they’re getting a fair shake when no one but Wolf and his inner circle know what the standards truly are? The governor is asking us to trust him and him alone to do the right thing without a shred of public oversight.

This isn’t the first time Wolf has kept us in the dark about the process. He’s currently being sued over his lack of transparency during the business waiver process when the shutdown first began.

It’s a troubling trend.

Making public policy decisions privately is not how a governor operates. That’s what a king does. Those who have studied history may remember something about how Pennsylvania has traditionally felt about rule by monarch.

It has been and continues to be our opinion that counties and their governments are in the best position to determine when they can safely reopen. But his vetoes of recent legislation have made clear Wolf has no interest in allowing that — meaning reality is the governor will be the ultimate arbiter.

With that being the case, Wolf needs to explicitly state what all the benchmarks are. This will allow counties to see for themselves if they really do still have work ahead of them to qualify or if they’ve already met the standards and deserve to reopen.

If Wolf’s methodology for determining who should open and who should wait is legitimate and was crafted in good faith, it should be able to withstand public scrutiny.

If the governor insists on being the sole decision maker, we at least deserve to know on what basis his decisions are being made. Without the ability for public oversight, we cease being citizens and instead become subjects.

That’s not how it works in the United States of America — not in the 1770s, and not now.

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