Government leaders here welcomed the announcement that Cambria, Somerset and 14 other counties will move to the green phase of coronavirus restrictions next Friday.

“It's about time” was the common theme from state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland, and state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor.

“I’ve been telling the governor that it’s time to reopen the state for business and that Cambria County businesses will continue to suffer until we do so, and it seems as though he’s finally taking my advice,” Burns said. "We’ve flattened the curve, but our businesses are still closed. It’s time to reopen the economy before it’s too late for many small-business owners.”

“It is something that should have been done weeks ago,” Langerholc said. “Our cases have been lower than the requirement. I'm glad we are reopening.”

State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, also said the opening is overdue.

“Even though I’ve been focused on the safety of my constituents and moving the 71st District and the entire state forward in the midst of this pandemic, my first thought after hearing Gov. Wolf’s announcement was: Why didn’t this happen weeks ago?” Rigby said, also citing the region's few confirmed cases.

Announcing the reopenings, Wolf insisted the decisions are not political.

“We selected these counties based on the recommendations of medical and epidemiological experts,” he said. “We've been able to do this because of the precautions taken by Pennsylvanians.”

Langerholc said he is not sure that's true. He pointed to remarks in early May by experts from UPMC in Pittsburgh. Dr. Donald Yealy, chairman of emergency medicine, and Dr. Steven Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer, testified for senate committees on May 13. Both said the southwest region was ready to open.

U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-Blair, 13th Congressional District, released a statement saying: “As the numbers show, we’ve done our part to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect our community. During this reopening process, it’s important that we continue to follow CDC guidelines so that our Commonwealth can move forward safely and expeditiously.

“Pennsylvania’s hard-working families, workers and small businesses are counting on us to get our economy back on the right track.”

Cambria County commissioners' Chairman Tom Chernisky thanked residents for helping reduce the virus spread. He also said he urged Wolf to reopen the region earlier.

“Going to the green phase is great news for small, medium and large businesses," he said. "Businesses were not made to be closed for an extended period of time. We can safely reopen businesses and still follow the Department of Health and (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines that will help keep employees and customers safe."

Rigby's statement looked ahead, asking, “What's next?"

He said: “Only time will tell. People are no doubt excited and/or relieved that we’ve come back and reached this point. In our exuberance, we need to remember to act safely and responsibly, respect others who may not yet feel comfortable with this designation and support our friends, neighbors and local businesses as the transition continues.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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