HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) — Gov. Tom Wolf blasted local elected officials who plan to reopen in defiance of his shutdown orders, threatening Monday to yank coronavirus aid and declaring they are “choosing to desert in the face of the enemy.”

The normally mild-mannered Democrat fired back after several counties declared themselves in open rebellion against his restrictions on businesses and movement, saying local officials who pronounce themselves open for business will pay a steep price.

“To those politicians who decide to cave in to this coronavirus, they need to understand the consequences of their cowardly act,” said Wolf, threatening to withhold state and federal funding to counties “that put us all at risk by operating illegally.”

“The funding we have put aside for fighting this crisis will go to folks who are doing their part, and that includes our CARES Act funding, which will be used to support counties following orders to prevent the spread and medical communities who are treating patients. However, other discretionary funding won’t go to counties that put us all at risk by operating illegally,” Wolf said.

He says the decision to move counties from the “Red” to “Yellow” to “Green” phases is made by a number of medical professionals – scientists and the state’s epidemiologists, and based on a number of factors including case counts, modeling, geographic location, contact tracing and testing capabilities for individual counties, regions, and the state.

Wolf also warned businesses that choose to “follow the whims of local politicians and ignore the law” by reopening in defiance of the shutdown that they risk businesses licenses, certificates of occupancy and other required governmental approvals to operate.

Republican elected officials in a growing number of counties are planning to move on their own to lift some of Wolf’s restrictions, including his stay-at-home orders and shutdown of businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.” The counties assert they have enough testing, equipment and hospital capacity to deal with the coronavirus.

“We have heard the pleas of our residents who desire the ability to safely reopen their businesses and safely return to work,” said nearly identical letters sent by state lawmakers, county commissioners and others in Lebanon and Schuylkill counties.

Franklin, Lancaster and Dauphin, among other counties, are also indicating they plan to lift pandemic restrictions on their own beginning this week.

In Western Pennsylvania, officials in Armstrong and Greene counties say they will not take action against businesses that defy the restrictions. Officials in Beaver County, which will stay in the “Red Phase” past this Friday, also say defiant businesses won’t be prosecuted.

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“Any discretionary dollars that depends on the counties participating in this war we’re all fighting, we can’t afford to have people to desert,” Wolf added. “The reward for desertion cannot be that you’re just like everybody else and get discretionary funding. Discretionary funding will go to places that are doing everything they ought to do to keep their citizens safe.”

Wolf outlined the following consequences to counties that do not abide by the law to remain closed:

  • Counties will not be eligible for federal stimulus discretionary funds the state receives and intends to provide to counties with populations of fewer than 500,000.
  • Businesses in counties that do not abide by the law will no longer be eligible for business liability insurance and the protections it provides. The
  • Pennsylvania Department of Insurance released details of this earlier today.
  • Restaurants that reopen for dine-in service in counties that have not been authorized to reopen will be at risk of losing their liquor license.
  • County residents receiving unemployment compensation will be able to continue to receive benefits even if their employer reopens. Employees may choose not to return out of concern for personal safety and safety of co-workers.

President Donald Trump weighed in on the intensifying political fight, tweeting Monday: “The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails.”

At his news conference Monday morning, Wolf was asked about the tweet, saying the state is moving in a measured manner to reopen.

“I don’t know how you stay safe and move quickly. We’re trying to move deliberately,” Wolf said. “In Pennsylvania, I closed down the state… the commonwealth closed the state in a measured, staged manner. And we’re reopening in the same measured, staged manner. I think that’s aimed at keeping people as safe as we possibly can in these uncharted waters, and I think that’s the responsible thing to do. The irresponsible thing to do is to just willy-nilly go off and pretend we can wave a magic wand and go back into business and suspend the reality of this virus that surrounds us.”

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman warned that companies that ignore the shutdown order could be jeopardizing their insurance coverage and putting themselves at risk of having their claims denied.

She said many policies have provisions that exclude coverage stemming from “illegal acts or conduct,” and could result in denied claims for property damage, protection from liability and other hazards should a business decide to reopen in violation of Wolf’s order.

“It is the duty of every business and resident in Pennsylvania to ensure that they and the public at large are provided with the maximum level of protection afforded by insurance. Any actions that could potentially create coverage gaps are the antitheses of the civil duty required of all residents during these times of emergency,” she said in a written statement.

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