A Pennsylvania county that has tangled with Gov. Tom Wolf over his pandemic restrictions agreed Friday to spend $2.8 million on a universal masking-wearing campaign.
Lebanon County said it will promote mask-wearing by its residents as part of a legal settlement in which Wolf agreed to release $12.8 million in federal coronavirus relief aid. Wolf had blocked Lebanon from receiving the money after its elected leaders defied his pandemic shutdown orders and sought to reopen the local economy on their own.
Lebanon filed suit last month in an effort to compel Wolf to release the funding.
In a news release announcing the settlement, Wolf said he was “pleased that Lebanon County will launch a campaign to encourage the use of face masks. Mask-wearing is important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to protect people, schools and businesses.”
Lebanon County Rep. Russ Diamond, a Republican who has stoked opposition to Wolf's pandemic shutdowns — and who has spoken out against the wearing of masks — excoriated the settlement.
“No matter how sweet you think your deal with the devil is, you will eventually end up in hell," Diamond wrote on Facebook. “This is absurd and borders on extortion. I don’t even know how you’d spend $2.8 million to advertise anything in Lebanon County.”
The GOP-controlled Board of Commissioners passed its resolution to unilaterally lift Wolf's pandemic restrictions on May 15, four days after the Democratic governor threatened to block COVID-19 funding to any county that defied him. The number of new infections in Lebanon County subsequently doubled, and Lebanon was the last Pennsylvania county to move from “yellow” to the least-restrictive “green" phase in Wolf's reopening plan.
County commissioners who had previously blasted Wolf's shutdown orders were far more conciliatory in announcing the settlement Friday.
“The commissioners urge all residents of Lebanon County to follow all of the administration's recommended practices to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in our communities," the statement said.
The county will use the rest of the relief money to reimburse school districts and local governments for virus-related expenses, distribute grants to small businesses and nonprofits, and support economic development and behavioral health programs.