The going is about to get tough again, but hang in there, there is an end in sight

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

With slightly more than two weeks until the election, you’re probably tired of hearing about it, tired of wondering when we’re going to beat this pandemic, tired of working from home, tired of teaching your kids and frankly, just tired of it all.

I don’t blame you, it’s been an exhausting year.

You can’t make plans — who knows what’s going to happen next? Vacations? Yeah, right — it’s hard to feel like many destinations will be safe any time soon. Heck, you can’t even go out to dinner without wondering whether it is going to make you sick.

After seven months, any charm from staying at home and spending quality time with family is probably getting a bit old. There’s only so many craft projects and fix-it jobs you can do without becoming bored senseless.

We’re eating too much, probably drinking too much, too — it’s a way to bury the anxiety that has built up over the months. You do what you have to do to cope.

So, I can understand that it might be tempting to say, “the hell with it.”

Unfortunately, the next few months will be the toughest. Already we’re seeing COVID-19 cases rise in the country and in the state (thankfully, Chester County continues to do better than average, as our residents are being very careful). It seems likely that we’re headed for difficult economic times — a major federal funding program to blunt the worst impact of the pandemic is stalled by partisan squabbling.

So, yeah, it’s frustrating.

But I’m here to tell you to hang in there.

The winter will be tough. It will be painful at times — regardless of who wins the upcoming elections. We may have to see some limited lockdowns again, if things get as bad as some experts think.

However, as spring emerges, though, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll have (hopefully) a working vaccine. The monoclonal antibodies just used with President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will likely be available broadly — meaning that the fatality rate from COVID-19 will drop. We’ll have better testing, and it will be more broadly available so we will better know who is sick and who is not.

At some point, the combination of those factors will allow society to open back up — some people with serious comorbidities will still have to be careful, but most of us will be able to resume our normal lives. By year’s end 2021, all of this should be over.

Maybe that is tough to hear — we’d all like this to be over now. But I think it helps to know there is an end in sight, even if it is not right around the corner.

The day will return when you can enjoy a beer at the Phillies’ game, see a movie or enjoy a concert. It won’t be tomorrow, but it will come.

Hang in there.

***

Unless something major changes, Pennsylvania will be one of just four states in the county not allowed to count mail in ballots before election day — potentially leading to delays in getting final numbers in the election.

Now, I know here in Chester County, our officials plan to move as much personnel as possible into Voter Services and try very hard to get the count done on election day. Kudos for the effort, of course, but none of this would be needed if counties could start counting a week before the election.

Republicans in the state legislature — despite pleas from pretty much every county in the state — refuse to move on the issue unless they get additional restrictions of ballot drop boxes and the like.

There seems to be a desire to trigger a legal battle over counting the mail ballots — like mine and maybe yours, in part because so much of the early vote is from Democrats. Because there is a general sense that President Trump is going to lose — and Republicans are going to get wiped out in Congressional and legislative races. Republicans seem to want to tie up the election in the courts and potentially deprive you of the right to vote.

This is literally undemocratic.

Feel free to let your Chester County Republican legislators: Steve Barrar (160), John Lawrence (13) and Tim Hennessey (26) in the State House and Tom Killion (9) in the State Senate know of your opinion on the matter if this is something that bothers you.

***

While allowing everyone to have their vote count is something Republicans are attempting to prevent, they want to make sure that local bars and restaurants are filled up, pandemic be damned — and they’re getting an assist from two local Democrats.

Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill Friday that in some cases would have allowed restaurants to go to full capacity and would have allowed bars to resume bar service — and allowed the sale of alcohol without any food service.

In his veto message on HB2513 Wolf said:

“This bill jeopardizes public health and safety as it permits eating establishments, including restaurants, bars, clubs and banquet halls, to operate, up to 100% capacity, without having to follow any mitigation guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Commonwealth. These federal and state mitigation guidelines were established to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 because of the severity of this pandemic. These guidelines not only protect customers, they also protect employees and the community.”

Despite the claims of some otherwise, the science is clear on restaurants and bars: because of the length of time spent and the inability to wear masks, indoor dining and drinking is a major cause of COVID-19 community spread. Current HVAC systems take the virus and recirculate it across restaurant dining areas and make it dangerous for patrons and employees.

It stinks for the owners and employees (although I suspect the latter would rather be unemployed than deathly ill or dead), and if advocates and legislators were serious about helping these businesses, there are concrete steps they could take to help. Instead, they’d rather grandstand.

Let’s be clear, we’re headed into a second peak in Pennsylvania — based on the way the numbers are growing it is likely to exceed the spike in the spring, with the resulting hospitalizations and deaths. Yes, we’re better at treating it, but it is still killing nearly 1,000 Americans per day.

In short, even with no changes, things are going to get much worse again — fully reopening restaurants and bars will kill many and wreck those businesses over the long haul, between a lack of trust from customers and crippling litigation from employees and customers who contract COVID-19.

So how do we bail out the restaurants and bars?

One of two ways (and this could also apply to smaller music venues):

The simplest: a grant program for restaurants and bars to keep them solvent while observing safe operation. It’s simple and could be done quickly, but isn’t a long term solution and doesn’t look forward to the next pandemic.

The best: use some of the nearly $1 billion of CARES funds for a matching grant program to pay for updates to HVAC systems. By adding Grade 13 HEPA/UVC filtration and outdoor air exchange (pushing indoor air out, bringing in fresh air), the risks to indoor dining can be dramatically reduced. Also, for facilities with higher ceilings, there are now UVC fans that suck air up and kill virus with upward facing UVC lights.

Such a program could be expanded to gyms, food stores and other retail outlets — but a major stumbling block will be greedy real estate lease companies that own and rent out the retail sites and won’t want to spend anything to upgrade their facilities to make them safe for the public.

Outlets having the work done and certified would be allowed to fully reopen — and more importantly, have the confidence of patrons and employees that it is safe to be there now and for the next pandemic.

Despite the fact that there is a sensible, grown up way to move forward, Republicans plan to try to override Wolf’s veto.

One would hope that the two Chester County Democrats who supported HB 2513, State Rep. Christina Sappey (D-158) and state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) don’t join the override effort.

We’ve come to expect better from both and hope they see the better alternatives out there to address this issue.

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