So…how many people are you willing to let die?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

We’d like it to be over, but it’s not.

The news that some 24 Pennsylvania counties will move a more open “yellow” stage next week naturally has folks in Chester County asking when will things open up here?

The honest answer: not that soon. June, maybe.

The numbers tell the story: new case numbers are not declining, if anything, they’ve been trending up here, even if the last few days looked better. Five people died Saturday in our county from this virus – for a total of 117 and honestly that number is very suspect — sources suggest the number is notably higher. At best, we’ve stalled this virus. At worst, Chester County, despite the lockdown, is losing this fight.

The question you have to ask yourself: how many people are you willing to see die just to open things up again?

There’s a lot of different reasons (most at the federal level), but to me and a lot of health experts, without broad testing and contact tracing, we’re not going to be able to contain this virus. Now, Chester County Health disagrees and argues that only testing symptomatic people — and using antibody testing for first responders and key personnel — is the way to go.

And while there are some arguments for that position — early active case testing suffered from a problem with false negatives — it is a minority opinion the public health world. Another problem: we do not have enough tests, reagents and swabs for broad testing, despite almost two months of claims by the Trump Administration otherwise.

It seems also that the antibody testing has been an issue – if not specifically with the kits Chester County is using (I’m honestly not sure), but most have not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration and many are proving wildly inaccurate.

Look, I disagree with our Health Department, but let’s be clear: they’re focused on getting this right. We may have different opinions, I know they want this to end with as few deaths as possible as soon as possible.

This differs greatly from our federal government response.

As noted, there are not enough tests. There, still, is not enough personal protective equipment – and the federal government has swooped in and stolen it some from states. Those governors — especially in “blue” states — who dare to question the performance of the Trump Administration, find their supplies routed to a “red” state.

And while it is easy to blame Donald Trump for his personal massive failure of response, you have to also put blame on a bevy of elected Republican officials.

Sen. Pat Toomey’s plan to reopen the state is laughable in a “let the serfs die” kind of way. His alleged desire to run for governor in 2022 and lose very, very badly to Josh Shapiro would be hilarious were it not so sad.

Had we had a better response, more testing, less denial, we’d be back open or on the verge of it right now. Had the administration and its minions in the Congress not screwed the pooch on unemployment (and are actively fighting to stop additional benefits for so many not likely to return to work anytime soon), small business loans/grants (which, of course, mostly went to big businesses) and utter failure to help states and municipalities cope have made this worse than it needed to be.

You aren’t stuck in your home because of Gov. Tom Wolf. You are stuck in your home — maybe watching your small business die – because Donald Trump is an arrogant, incompetent ass.

Try to remember that this fall.


As almost all of you know, we had some pretty powerful storms race through Chester County on Thursday. There was some wind — gusts in the upper 40s – and some rain.

But the damage to PECO’s electrical grid in the county was awful. Thousands of people lost power and it took days to restore in many cases.

So the question is this: was the storm that bad or has PECO again fallen down on maintenance  and continued to cut its workforce to pump up profit for parent company Exelon?

The evidence suggests it is a maintenance issue.

There were not nearly enough crews to handle this week’s events — and many of the outages appear to be at least partially related to poor maintenance.

I can only speak to my own experience in Pocopson. We have a PECO right of way behind our house that feeds 24 homes in our neighborhood. We’ve repeatedly had issues with overgrowth of trees/plants in the right of way, which then fall on wires, poles and transformers.

We complained.

PECO cleared out the space behind our home. Only. Not our neighbors or the roughly 1/4 mile long right of way.

So when a moderately large branch from behind our next door neighbor hit the pole behind our yard, I wasn’t surprised.

When the pole exploded — shattered into a million pieces because it had rotted away – I was a bit more surprised, even as I watched in real time.

This story was repeated across the county — failure to trim, failure to maintain and a thinning of the workforce — all because Exelon wanted to boost its stock price.

This is where I remind you PECO is a monopoly: you have to get your power from them.

PECO should be regulated by the state, but our Public Utilities Authority is slightly less effective than a drunken Pomeranian puppy and even less powerful.

Most other states tightly regulate their utilities, being publicly sanctioned monopolies, but not Pennsylvania. This might just be something to ask your favorite state legislative candidates about this summer/fall during election season — what are they going to do about it?


Obviously, being in the news business these days is a bit challenging.

Doing so in the era of the Stay At Home does add a bit of challenge to it.

Still, after years of doing this, we’ve gotten used to working around the power outages (thank heaven for our trusty generator, which at least gives us power for our water pump, fridges and yes, Internet). Normally, we’d decamp to our lightly used Valley office — which does have power.

So, while it was delightful that PECO managed to restore our power in about 36 hours, Friday night, they managed to sever our fiber optic cable from Verizon FiOS. So, now we have power, but no Internet or office phone. For what it is worth — the exhausted workers on site from PECO denied doing so, but we lost FiOS just as the power came back, as did our neighbors.

While that would normally be a problem, it’s a much bigger one with two college kids home needing to Zoom their classes. Verizon can’t send anyone out before Tuesday (and I doubt they can fix it in one visit — I think we may need new fiber run), so we’re kind of left in the lurch in these stay at home, Internet dependent times.

Even though AT&T wireless upped our limits for hotspots, we quickly ran out of data and had to buy a mobile hotspot with 100GB of data, just to keep up (that’s how you’re reading this today).

If as expected, we’re going to evolve into a lot more people working from home, we need to start building out infrastructure — and making sure our public utilities maintain it properly.

One thing that might help: 5G wireless. Calling back to my time as tech writer, it is possible that within a couple of years, we might get all of our Internet & cable TV over a cellular wireless router (similar, but faster to what my family is using right now — and without the data caps), which will be one less wire/cable to break during storms.

We’re also going to have to have a conversation about solar power and battery storage systems for homes. Pennsylvania’s government has been downright hostile to solar power of late — let’s just say those who profit from a lack of solar power know which Republican state legislators to generously target with campaign funds.

Within a decade, with some of the technology emerging, we could see houses no longer need PECO so badly. By using solar power and large batteries for all of their power needs — PECO would be little more than a backup for many homeowners. Aside from being cleaner, it would mean the end of broad power outages — and all of the issues they mean for those working from home.

This state needs to improve the tax breaks for solar installs to make the numbers work for the average home owner.

Again, something to ask your local state legislative candidate about.

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