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Pennsylvania

Gov. Wolf Blasts Businesses, Counties Seeking to Reopen Early, Threatens Consequences

"These folks are choosing to desert in the face of the enemy," Wolf said

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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Monday blasted as "cowardly" business owners who reopen from coronavirus shutdowns before they are allowed and the politicians who have encouraged them, threatening serious consequences to both groups.

Wolf said he would revoke state licenses for businesses that open early and stop some state funding to county governments.

"These folks are choosing to desert in the face of the enemy, in the middle of a war that Pennsylvanians are winning and must win," said Wolf, seemingly angry at times, at a press briefing.

"The fight is not yet over and this is not the time to give up," he said.

Wolf said businesses that open before the state allows could lose licenses that are required to operate, including liquor licenses, health certificates and certificates of occupancy.

"They are engaging in behavior that is both selfish and unsafe," Wolf said.

They might also be in violation of business insurance policies, he said, because they would be operating illegally.

Earlier Monday, Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman warned that companies that ignore the shutdown order could be jeopardizing their insurance coverage and putting themselves at risk of having their claims denied.

She said many policies have provisions that exclude coverage stemming from “illegal acts or conduct,” and could result in denied claims for property damage, protection from liability and other hazards should a business decide to reopen in violation of Wolf’s order.

“It is the duty of every business and resident in Pennsylvania to ensure that they and the public at large are provided with the maximum level of protection afforded by insurance. Any actions that could potentially create coverage gaps are the antitheses of the civil duty required of all residents during these times of emergency,” she said in a written statement.

Wolf's comments came as several Pennsylvania counties that are still in the closed, "red" phase of his color-coded reopening plan have pressed for faster reopening. Bucks County officials met over Skype with Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to press their case Sunday.

Republican elected officials in a growing number of counties are planning to move on their own to lift some of Wolf’s restrictions, including his stay-at-home orders and shutdown of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.” The counties assert they have enough testing, equipment and hospital capacity to deal with the coronavirus.

“We have heard the pleas of our residents who desire the ability to safely reopen their businesses and safely return to work,” said nearly identical letters sent by state lawmakers, county commissioners and others in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties.

Franklin, Lancaster and Dauphin, among other counties, are also indicating they plan to lift pandemic restrictions on their own beginning this week.

Wolf said local and county politicians who are encouraging businesses to reopen might not get discretionary state funding.

He also said his authority to punish those that open early had been established by the state judiciary.

"To these politicians who decide to cave in to this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act," he said, adding the state's discretionary funding will go to "those who are doing their part."

Wolf's comments also followed a tweet from President Trump that said "the great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now" and added "the Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes." Wolf is a Democrat.

Asked to respond to Trump's tweet, Wolf said the state closed in a measured way and will use the same blueprint to guide reopening.

"The irresponsible thing to do is, as I said earlier, is to just willy nilly go off and pretend that we can wave a magic wand and go back into business and suspend the reality of this virus that's surrounding us," Wolf said.

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