Car dealerships appear to be the next priority for Pennsylvania House GOP members after the State Government Committee advanced a measure granting the industry a waiver from the coronavirus shutdowns.
Republicans on the committee approved House Bill 2388 on a vote of 15-10 on April 13---this after consistent warnings from public health officials to maintain aggressive social distancing policies and keep nonessential businesses shuttered for the foreseeable future.
“The mitigation factors are absolutely critical to our state plan to deal with COVID-19,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine during a press briefing April 13. “To do it (reopening) now … would be a mistake. That would cost lives and lead to the potential overwhelming of our health care system.”
The department confirmed 1,366 new cases of COVID-19 on April 13, bringing the statewide total to 24,199. More than 500 residents have died from complications of the virus and more than 2,200 remain hospitalized, Levine said.
While the figures continue rising, Levine said mitigation efforts---from closing schools and businesses to limiting daily interactions and social gatherings---have helped flatten the curve. New case rates have fallen below 10% over the last few days, though Levine believes Pennsylvania still hasn’t reached its peak.
“This has been a very difficult and hard sacrifice, but the sacrifice is working,” she said. “We aren’t seeing the doubling of cases like other countries and states have seen. It really could be much, much worse and the closures have saved lives in Pennsylvania.”
Meanwhile in the Legislature, Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-York, spoke to the committee in favor of the bill April 13. She said residents in her district must travel an average of seven miles just to reach public transit, meaning those who suddenly find themselves without a car need other options.
Pennsylvania’s car sales have dropped 27% since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all nonessential businesses to shut down their physical locations March 23, Keefer said.
The closure sacrifices $183 million in tax revenue, she said, despite dealers’ ability to complete sales via video conferencing, the same way mortgage brokers have done.
“We know we can do these transactions safely,” Keefer said. “Most of the car dealerships in my district have said they don’t want people in their showrooms, and they can do this virtually.”
Democrats on the committee, however, worried about a lack of enforcement measures contained within the bill and said reopening dealerships could exacerbate infection rates.