Pennsylvania used the Wireless Emergency Alert System on Wednesday afternoon as its latest way to warn residents about the dangers of COVID-19.
The alert went out over enabled smartphones just before the state’s one-day prohibition on alcohol sales at restaurants and bars went into effect. And it was sent out the same week that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine ordered new and enhanced restrictions on freedoms and business in response to the pandemic.
Pennsylvania is currently reporting its highest new daily COVID case totals. In Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania reported our highest, by far, daily new case total, on Nov. 24, with 158 cases.
The alert read:
“In PA, COVID-19 rates are rising & hospitals could soon be at capacity. Stay home if possible. If you must go out, maintain social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands for 20 seconds. Stay up to date on the spread of COVID in your community so you an protect your loved ones with the COVID Alert PA app.”
Part of the new and enhanced orders from Wolf and Levine this week included promises to enforce the mask mandate first put into effect in April in Pennsylvania. They now say that masks must be worn at all times, even in a home, when you’re near someone from another household. And masks should always be worn outdoors, even if a person stays socially distanced from others.
The new orders also included amended crowd size limits for both outdoor and indoor events.
And in the most controversial of the restrictions was the banning, for 15 hours, the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants. This was designed to prevent larger crowds gathering on the eve of Thanksgiving, traditionally one of the busiest days for each type of business in Pennsylvania. Restaurants that serve alcohol generally generate between 25-50% of their profit from those sales.
Wolf continues to target restaurants and bars in the face of the pandemic. The state, via its unspectacular contact tracing efforts, keeps reporting that of the minority of Pennsylvanians who actually respond to contact tracers, more report visiting a restaurant more than any other activity.
After those restrictions left Pennsylvanians stewing and increasingly worried about future lockdown measures, the Wolf administration decided to utilize this rarely used alert system.
Generally, the Wireless Emergency Alert System is used to notify the public of Amber Alert warnings and imminent dangerous weather threats, like a tornado warning.
The problem with Pennsylvania WEAS warning this week is that it didn’t actually alert people to anything specific. It was just a general warning and then a plug for the mobile app the state keeps pushing.
Another issue is that if the Wolf administration continues to use the mobile warning system as it did this week, it could make Pennsylvanians numb or dismissive toward it. That could be costly if the alert is for something other than one of these COVID non-warnings and recipients drop their guard.
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