By Sen. Art Haywood
The Covid-19 pandemic has rocked the pillars of our nation. We face challenges that threaten our health and economic well-being while our democracy struggles to respond to the immense suffering. Our society, culture and normal daily life has been turned upside down.
Across our nation, thousands have tragically died, and hundreds of thousands have gotten sick. The coronavirus has touched each of us personally. Social distancing has become the norm and our most formidable frontline defense. What we are doing, in separating from each other, is working.
From across all metrics – deaths, hospitalizations, ICU admissions — it is clear that we have now flattened the curve and reduced new infections. While not out of danger, experts believe the surge and peak will hit and pass us this week. Then what? We must find a path to resume life, without sacrificing public health. Public health and the return to work should not be competing objectives, but some public officials argue otherwise. Our goal is to thread the needle and ensure that we are not sacrificing health when the economy is reopened.
Led by Gov. Tom Wolf and other northeastern governors, our leaders have started to chart a way forward. Before effective treatment is widely available and a vaccine is ready, the restart of our economy should be guided by several key principles: mandatory Centers for Disease Control (CDC) workplace leave protocols; at-work social distancing; remote work if possible; heightened cleanup standards including hand washing, sanitation enhancements; social distancing and mask-wearing in public settings; and accessible testing for all.
In addition, we need to institute hazard pay for workers and an increased minimum wage. Other important safety procedures — including prohibiting mass gatherings of 10 people or more — should remain in place. There must also be new guidelines for nursing home visits and expanded protections for our most vulnerable citizens.
As we begin reconfiguring public policy, we must recognize that they key to economic revival is the prodding of consumer spending while we enhance the protection of our workers. An integral part of boosting consumer spending is raising the pay of our workers. In addition to hazard pay and an increased minimum wage, we should institute federal payments directly to workers, much like what is being done in Canada.
This massive federal stimulus effort combined with improving fairness and equity pay for workers on the state level will stem home and business failures and foreclosures. This will also prevent evictions, car repossessions and forestall massive business debt. As we tend to re-igniting business activity and protecting families, we also must invest in our children through summer learning and recreation opportunities.
Federal assistance to help families and restore neighborhoods is key, but it must not stop there. Pennsylvania will need at least $3 billion in direct aid to fill in revenue gaps and cover gaping holes in our tax receipts. There is simply no state solution that can address a chasm this large.
Finally, we must promote a safe and secure democracy. That is why we must aggressively pursue an all vote-by-mail election this fall.
Together, we have made adjustments in our daily lives that have lessened the dire impact of the pandemic. We have watched as our dedicated first-responders, health care professionals, grocery workers, food processors, delivery service personnel, truck drivers, sanitation workers and so many more have gone to their jobs each day for all of us. Heroes all.
They have done their part. Now, let us do our part and shoulder the responsibility of crafting the correct public policy after the surge.