State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Berlin, on Tuesday warned members of the Pittsburgh Technology Council that “the frustration level continues to rise” in areas of the state experiencing minimal infection levels from the COVID-19 virus, but still largely shut down by Gov. Tom Wolf’s directives aimed at curbing the virus spread.
Pointing to several incidents in Blair County where business owners are openly defying the Wolf mandates, Metzgar noted that, “cracks are starting to form.”
He said he felt “there is a disconnect between the administration and the people,” and added that he does not feel that the governor understands that “the ability to make a living is a life issue.”
Continuing, he said, “People’s survival is at stake. People are angry. They’re very angry here. I’m worried about the mental health of my constituents.”
The bottom line, Metzgar, said, is, “If your healthy, you need to work.” If the situation is allowed to continue, he said, “the situation will become dangerous.”
Metzgar particularly expressed frustration that “the goalpost (for reopening) is moving. .. “Human nature is not set up to deal with the way this is happening right now.”
Reopening his district should not present a health risk, he said, because of the low infection rate, the rural nature of the district, and people’s willingness to accept health guidelines.
Much of Metzgar’s 30-minute session with the council dealt with emerging problems for the agriculture industry.
Where meat is concerned, the closure of a number of large processing facilities because of widespread COVID infections among the workers has caused supply-chain issues that Metzgar said are not easily fixed and may get worse.
He told the council that he felt the problem actually began a generation ago, when the federal government imposed food-safety regulations that were much more strict than had been in place.
“When that happened, a great many of our small operators went out of business because they could not meet that threshold that was thrown before them,” he said.
The result was that the industry shifted its reliance to the larger, factory-style processing facilities.
With the virus outbreak, he said, “That’s a bottleneck. … That’s the worst scenario for all.”
He went on to explain that the end result at the supermarket end was a huge price increase, possibly even shortages. Meanwhile, farmers, since there are not enough “hooks for the meat,” are actually being paid less for their product as retail prices climb.
Fixing the problem in the near future may be difficult, he said. Rather, the focus needs to be on “what we can learn from it? How we can do things differently?”
The answer, he said, is “we need to find a way to get the small packager back in business. … It’s too late to fix right now, but I think that’s the direction that we need to go in the long term.”
The dairy industry he said, also finds itself in a dilemma, what he termed a “triple-whammy.”
Fluid milk sales rely heavily on schools, which are now shut. Ice cream demand is now low, and cheese production is greatly reduced because of restaurant closures.
The end result is that in some cases farmers have been forced to dump their milk.
One solution being tried in the Somerset area, he noted, was that funds have been raised so that Schneider Dairy of Pittsburgh and Galliker’s Dairy in Johnstown have been processing some of the excess milk and donating it to area food banks.
“It made a tremendous difference,” he said.
One questioner asked Metzgar if farmers’ markets might be a solution. It’s not that simple, Metzgar explained, noting that federal permits are required to get meat or dairy products to market, and he called for the system to “quickly change, retrofit or whatever is necessary.”