Lansdale Reporter Editorial: Montgomery County commissioners show strong leadership
March 27, 2020
Since March 7 with the announcement of two presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Montgomery County, county commissioners led by Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh have been at the forefront of slowing the pandemic progression in Pennsylvania.
Arkoosh has led the communication effort for the county, providing daily press briefings and detailing the spread of the virus through this suburban county of 800,000 people.
Within a few days of the first cases reported, it became obvious that Montgomery County was experiencing the spread of the disease at a faster rate than other places in Pennsylvania. By March 20, on the day a county-run testing site opened in Ambler, the total was 68 cases were reported compared to 16 in Bucks, 17 in Chester and 23 in Delaware counties.
On Saturday, March 21, an Abington man died, becoming the first COVID-19 fatality in the county, the fourth death in the state at that time. On Wednesday, March 25, the county’s total number of cases was 159.
The spread of the disease and related developments have spiraled rapidly in Montgomery County. Schools were ordered closed here ahead of the state order. Similar directives closing businesses and telling people to stay home were ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf first for Montgomery and surrounding counties and extended to other counties during the past week.
The county has been at the regional epicenter of this crisis, and thus, its leaders have been in the spotlight.
Arkoosh has every day stepped up to the podium at the county Emergency Communications Center at Eagleville to face members of the press and the public watching a video feed on Facebook Live. She introduces the leadership team that is also present for each briefing: Commissioners Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr. and Joseph C. Gale; Dr. Alvin Wang, regional EMS medical director; and Dr. Brenda Weis, administrator of the Office of Public Health.
In the three weeks since these briefings began, Arkoosh and county officials have exhibited calm, measured leadership through a developing crisis. Day in and day out, Arkoosh, who reminds people she is both a medical doctor and a mom, urges county residents to stay at home, wash their hands often and take care of themselves.
She has provided clear and concise information, answered pointed questions with straightforward answers, and repeatedly minded county residents that looking out for each other and demonstrating goodness is the way forward, no matter how frightening the escalation of cases appears.
On Wednesday, Arkoosh said there have been some reports of racial profiling of Asian residents of the county, using the opportunity to remind people that prejudicial behavior will not be tolerated. “We will beat this virus by working together as a community, not by falsely blaming any individual or group. By sticking together, six-feet apart, we are Montco strong,” she said at the daily briefing, referencing the six-feet apart standard to prevent disease spread.
As a medical doctor, Arkoosh understands the science of this spread, and as part of a local community, she knows not to overwhelm people.
To emphasize the importance of social distancing and mitigation, the commissioners shared a graphic that showed that without social distancing, one person with COVID-19 is estimated to infect 2.5 people. “So over a 30-day period, that one person with no social distancing measures could potentially infect 406 people,” Arkoosh said. “If we can reduce that exposure by 50 percent, so now that one person infects 1.25 people, by 30 days there have only been a total of 15 people infected. … You can see what a dramatic difference it can make right here in our community if we all just stay home, unless absolutely necessary.”
The coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and Montgomery County’s unfortunate spot at the center of it in this region can be daunting.
It is at times like this when intelligent, empathetic leadership is most needed. Trust in the accuracy of information being shared and transparency in its delivery is critical to public compliance with the steps needed to slow the spread of this disease.
Arkoosh and the commissioners have risen to that task.