Detailed analysis of the latest science has driven the state's reopening plan and identified which counties move from the original red phase to some reopening under the yellow phase, Gov. Tom Wolf said on Friday.
“These are not political decisions,” Wolf said when asked during Friday's press briefing if Beaver County was moved to yellow in response to local leaders' criticism of the process.
Wolf said he relies on expert advice for the pandemic response.
“Viruses are not like other disasters where the danger is obvious,” Wolf said, noting storm clouds, trees bending in the wind and rising water levels all warn of natural disasters.
“We can't see the virus particles on someone's breath, on a doorknob or on a light switch.”
Epidemiologists, however, see danger when people interact closely, Wolf said.
“The epidemiologists and other staff at the Department of Health have dedicated their lives to tracking diseases,” he said. “They are professionally trained to analyze not just the pathway of known viruses, but opportunity to spread as well.
“I base the movement of counties from red to yellow on their scientific and medical advice.”
Wolf did not identify any of the experts, but the health department provided information for The Tribune-Democrat.
“Governor Wolf has benefited from the expertise of many nationally recognized medical and public health professionals throughout this pandemic,” the department said, noting that Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has been recognized for leadership in the fight against the opioid crisis. She was elected to leadership in the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, allowing her to consult with her counterparts from other states.
Pennsylvania's many medical and public health schools are also regularly consulted, and the Carnegie Mellon University's Risk-Based Decision Support Tool model is updated weekly on the health department website, health.pa.gov.
Other experts include:
• Dr. Sharon Watkins, state epidemiologist, is a graduate of Ohio State University who has specialized in epidemiology, environmental epidemiology and perinatal/maternal and child epidemiology. She has more than 40 peer-reviewed publications and two decades of experience in public health and epidemiology. She is president of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.
• Dr. Dongxiang Xia, director of the bureau of laboratories, is a diplomate of the American Board of Medical Microbiology and is certified as a specialist in virology by the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification. He is currently a member of the Association of Public Health Laboratories COVID-19 Task Force and has decades of experience overseeing the regulatory, scientific and administrative operations for the diagnosis, investigation, surveillance and control of diseases and response to emergencies.
• Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, has more than 30 years of experience in emergency services delivery and training, including fire/rescue, emergency medical services and emergency management. He was formerly director of the Public Safety Training Center at Harrisburg Area Community College and is a member of Pennsylvania Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team. He is a certified fire service instructor and has been involved in numerous local, regional, state and federal responses throughout his career including the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
Wolf said he will continue to follow the experts' direction to move the state toward a full reopening.
“As the leader of this commonwealth, I am responsible for the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians,” he said. “I can't and I will not let this virus ravage our communities. So I've got to take seriously the advice of the medical professionals, and the epidemiologists.”
Wolf encouraged continued caution, the use of masks and social-distancing measures.
“We've saved lives by what we've done through our social distancing efforts,” Wolf said. “We've not only reversed the trend of the exponential new case growth, we have now cut it in half.”