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Gov. Wolf joins Northeastern governors to plan for regional reopening after coronavirus

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Gov. Tom Wolf joined governors from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware April 13 for a conference announcing the formation of a six-state regional council of health care officials and economic advisers to develop a shared plan for reopening states in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The conference, led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, came just hours after President Donald Trump tweeted that the federal government and president have the sole authority to lift states’ restrictions and reopen their economies, and criticized news outlets “saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government.

“Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect,” the tweet read. “It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons.”

The tweet also said the administration “are working closely with the Governors” adding that “A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”

Cuomo opened by acknowledging that states need to look at reopening strategies but stressed that a smart plan – driven by experts, research data and science – is required establish an effective framework and instill public confidence in the governors’ actions.

“Everyone is very anxious to get out of the house, get back to work, get the economy moving, everyone agrees with that but the art form is going to be doing that smartly, and doing that productively, and doing that in a coordinated way,” he said.

The working group will consist of three members from each state – a public health official, an economic development official, and the governor’s chief of staff –and will begin work April 14.

Together, the council will gather and share information, address public health concerns, and discuss economic reactivation issues to set parameters and guidelines for states’ reactivation plans to follow.

Wolf said he fully supported the initiative, noting that “we can do anything better when we work together in this region.

“This partnership, this council that we’re forming here recognizes that simple fact, and I agree with the sentiments of my partners that we need to do this right,” he said.

In addition to the economic and health care considerations, Wolf said the council would also play a critical role in instilling a sense of hope in state populations burdened by the coronavirus.

“It recognizes that we need to come up with a specific and a smart plan for this uncertain future that lies ahead,” Wolf said, “but it is also that we are creating a plan to let our people, the people that we serve…know that we indeed do have a future.”

“As we figure out how we’re going to reopen our schools, how we reopen our businesses and our homes, we are also going to recognize that we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to restore the sense of hope that this pandemic has taken away from so many of us.”

Wolf expressed confidence in the advisers from Pennsylvania -– the Secretary of Health, Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, and his chief of staff – to do a “great job for the people we serve.

“I think we’re going to show the people of the United States how you come out of something as devastating as this in a responsible fashion.”

In response, Cuomo said he agreed with Wolf’s emphasis on addressing the emotional side of the pandemic. “We talk about the economic toll which we can quantify; we can’t quantify the emotional toll this has taken on people,” Cuomo said.

“I think Gov. Wolf is exactly right; knowing that there’s another day…may be different than past days, but it can be a bright day, and that is true, and we have to focus on that.”

The other leaders involved – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Delaware Gov. John Carney, and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo – also backed the regional cooperation strategy.

Murphy noted how interconnected New Jersey is with the other states’ economies and populations, especially New York and Pennsylvania, and said a responsible, coordinated opening plan “seems to be an overwhelmingly prudent approach.”

“An economic recovery only occurs on the back of a complete health care recovery, and that order is essential,” he said.

Lamont agreed, adding that the transportation networks linking Connecticut with the region have been “the commuter corridor for us, but it’s also the COVID corridor.” He emphasized the importance of working thoughtfully and following experts’ guidance.

Raimondo said governors have been collectively “showing great leadership and taking action to keep our residents safe” throughout the pandemic and noted that a similar mindset is key to reopening the regional economies. “The reality is this virus doesn’t care about state borders, and our response shouldn’t either,” she said.

Following the conference, Wolf was asked about whether the governors disagreed with Trump’s assertion that lifting restrictions and opening economies was a federal decision.

“Well seeing as we had the responsibility for closing the states down, I think we probably have the primary responsibility for opening it up,” he said, highlighting Murphy’s point about the connection between an economic and health care recovery.

“I think this regional compact is premised on the idea that you’re not going to have a healthy economy if you have an unhealthy population; we’ve got to do both,” Wolf said.

“We’ve got to get people healthy; the sequence is you have to get people healthy first and then you can reopen the economy – not until – or the economy’s not going to work.”

Wolf said the governors have been working together to keep their states safe during the coronavirus crisis and will continue to do so as a region when taking the next step toward “some sense of normal, the new normal.”

“I don’t think we’re trying to say anything negative about anybody,” Wolf concluded. “We’re simply saying it was our responsibility to steer our way through these uncharted waters, and it’s our responsibility to figure out a way back.”

Cuomo agreed with Wolf’s assessment that Trump had left the responsibility and decision to close states to the governors, saying this has been the management form he would continue to follow. “Gov. Wolf’s point was right; he left it to the states to close down and that was a state-by-state decision,” Cuomo said.

“Without any guidance really, he took the position that it was a state decision, and then the states were responsible for purchasing supplies, etc., so that was the model of management for this disaster emergency what was promulgated thus far.”

Cuomo added that Trump could propose changes to the management model but said any change would need to be “consistent with the Constitution, consistent with the law” governing state and federal authority.

The following day Trump criticized the governors for their decisions in several tweets, comparing them to mutineers in the film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” and claiming Cuomo had been “begging” for federal coronavirus assistant and was asking for independence.

In response, Cuomo rejected Trump’s claims to authority during his morning coronavirus update, saying that “that is not an accurate statement in my opinion” and said of the balance between federal and state power “we don’t have a king in this country…we have a Constitution.”

He also read a quote from Alexander Hamilton discussing the federal-state relationship, which noted that federal encroachment on state governments and liberties “is repugnant to every rule of political calculation.”