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Former Pennsylvania governors of both parties rally behind Wolf

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge testifies April 8, 2019, before the Pennsylvania House Consumer Affairs Committee.

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf got some high-profile support on Friday from three predecessors amid a wave of criticism over his administration’s tightened restrictions on bars and restaurants.

Former Govs. Ed Rendell, Mark Schweiker and Tom Ridge – the latter of whom resigned to serve as the first Secretary of Homeland Security from 2001 until 2005 – praised Wolf’s actions as “decisive and strong” and encouraged residents to follow his universal masking mandates and recommendations to stay at home.

Rendell, like Wolf, is a Democrat, while Schweiker and Ridge are Republicans.

“Like all Pennsylvanians, Gov. Wolf and Secretary Levine are hoping to avoid the COVID-19 spikes impacting other states so that we can get our economy back up and running as soon as possible,” Ridge said. “Wearing a mask is a simple, selfless act all of us should support.”

Rendell said the administration’s economic and travel restrictions early in the pandemic “saved countless lives” and his willingness to reverse course in the face of rising COVID-19 cases “is the right thing to do.”

“The recent spike means we must pull together again as a Commonwealth to stop the spread of this disease and keep our citizens and communities safe,” he said. “The Governor’s new executive order on mitigation is the right thing to do, is measured and Pennsylvania will be better and safer for it.”

The Department of Health has reported 4,100 new cases of COVID-19 over the last five days. Public health officials cited bars and restaurants, as well as complacency about social distancing, traveling out of state and residents refusing to wear masks, as the sources of increasing community spread.

As such, the administration ordered bars and nightclubs to shut down, reduced restaurant capacity to 25 percent and limited alcohol sales to food service or take out only. He’s faced rebuke from legislative Republicans, struggling restaurant owners and industry associations alike. While calls for state and federal bailouts of the restaurant industry grow, Wolf’s public support for such a policy further inflames his critics.

But Schweiker, who stepped into the governor’s seat after Ridge’s departure in 2001, said he understands the difficult balance of safeguarding the public and the economy.

“Yesterday’s executive order is meant to help us all avoid the public health issues which we faced this past spring,” he said. “These summer measures, as I see it, are part of a strategy to help us avoid a second public health and economic crisis later in the year. Wearing your mask amounts to saying let’s beat the virus now, not later when it might be too late.”

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