Pence at Guy Chemical

United States Vice President Mike Pence is shown during a “Great American Comeback Tour” campaign stop at Guy Chemical Co.,Inc., in Somerset, PA., Thursday, July 30, 2020.

SOMERSET – When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, bringing sickness and economic hardships, Guy Chemical, a sealant and adhesive manufacturer, transformed part of its operations into making hand sanitizer.

The effort saved jobs and provided a much needed health product in the fight against coronavirus.

On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence complimented the employees and owner for their contributions during a “Great American Comeback Tour” event, hosted by America First Policies, at the plant.

“Like every other business in America when the pandemic hit, Guy Chemical took a hit, but that didn't stop Guy, or this great family or this great team,” Pence said. “It's really impressive to me that you didn't close. You extended a hand of support to your employees. Thanks to your quick action, you were able to become part of the solution. I'm told that, in just one short week, you received FDA approval, and Guy Chemical started producing hand sanitizers and providing them all over the state and all over America. That's what it means to be part of the solution.”

The first 4,000 bottles were donated to local first responders, according to Guy Berkebile, founder of Guy Chemical.

“You could see the pride in the faces of our employees that they knew that they were contributing to the effort to fight coronavirus,” Berkebile said.

Pence also campaigned during the event attended by about 200 supporters, drawing comparisons between President Donald Trump's record and that of presumptive Democratic Party nominee former Vice President Joe Biden on several issues, including energy.

“America made enormous strides toward energy independence,” Pence said. “We are now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world. And I'll make you a promise. This president is going to continue to support policies that allow us to develop all of the resources in this land and that includes we're going to support fracking in Pennsylvania and the thousands of jobs that it supports. The people of Pennsylvania deserve to know that, if the other side gets their way, the future is going to look very different. True.”

Pence said Biden wants to raise taxes, end fracking and “bury our economy under an avalanche of regulation.”

The Somerset gathering included a forum in which U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-Blair County, 13th Congressional District, participated.

“It is so important that our vice president is here in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Joyce said during an interview before Pence's speech. “Guy Chemical is truly one of the great small businesses that we know are so important for Pennsylvania. Small businesses are the backbone of America. And, truly, in southwestern Pennsylvania, they're the heart of our community.”

Joyce, a dermatologist, complimented the Trump administration for, in his opinion, leading the way in developing a vaccine for COVID-19. The goal of Operation Warp Speed is to have 300 million vaccines available by January 2021.

“We're optimistic that a vaccine is on the near horizon,” Joyce said.

Later, during his speech, Pence said “every day we are one day closer to putting the coronavirus in the past, and we're already opening up America again.”

Concerning the pandemic, Rebecca Poggi, one of the audience members, thinks Trump and Pence are “doing what they can.”

“I don't think everyone knows exactly for sure what's going on with it, Poggi, a Somerset resident, said. “All we can do is take the precautions that we can, and try to get people back to life because sometimes the cure is worse.”

Poggi added: “The best thing we can do for our economy is get things back open because our economy was going strong before we were forced to shut everything down.”

John Zimmerman, from Johnstown, supports Trump and Pence's approach for bringing back the economy from the shutdown. “I believe he has the answers to try to do that,” Zimmerman said. “His opponent, for what little he says, is going whatever way the wind blows.”

Democrats spoke in opposition to Pence's visit in both terms of policy and timing amid a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout Pennsylvania.

Nancy Patton Mills, the party's state chair, called the stops “misguided” during a conference call on Wednesday.

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence didn't cause the coronavirus, but they’ve failed at nearly every turn to address the crisis appropriately,” Mills said. “They continue to ignore the advice of medical experts. … They haven't delivered on a national testing strategy and insist on rushing schools to reopen this fall without providing guidance on how to do so safely.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. was also critical of the administration's response to the pandemic.

“The Vice President should explain what the administration will do to compensate for the multiple failures in the response to the virus and COVID-19 which has killed over 150,000 Americans and over 7,100 Pennsylvanians,” Casey said in a statement. “The Trump-Pence administration has no strategy to prevent another 59,000 deaths in nursing homes and other long term care settings. And while Pennsylvania has 821,000 people out of work, Trump and Pence want to cut unemployment benefits and shield corporations from any accountability. As millions lose health insurance, Trump and Pence support a lawsuit that will destroy protections for preexisting conditions. Pennsylvania will vote for the strong and steady leadership of Joe Biden. I know that Joe can bring our nation together to defeat the virus, counter the economic impacts of COVID-19 and help us 'Build Back Better.' ”

Earlier in the day, Pence participated in a “Cops for Trump” event in Greensburg, where he compared the president to Biden.

“Some of the leading politicians in the Democratic Party today liken law enforcement officers to 'storm troopers,' ” Pence said in Greensburg. “I mean, even Joe Biden said not long ago that well-armed police 'become the enemy' when confronting lawlessness in our streets. Well I want to assure you, your president knows, this vice president knows, and the overwhelming majority of the American people know that the men and women of law enforcement are the best people in this country. Law enforcement isn't the problem, law enforcement is the solution. That's why President Trump and our entire administration back the blue.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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