The Lead

Amid calls for her dismissal, Health Secretary Levine says Pa. is evolving its strategies to fight COVID-19

By: - May 19, 2020 3:23 pm

Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine briefs the press on Saturday, 4/25/20

Facing ongoing criticism for her management of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania’s top public health official batted aside calls for her resignation Tuesday, saying she remains “committed to protecting” the state as it rides out the crisis.

Last week, state Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, began seeking support for a resolution calling for the removal of state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, arguing that she mismanaged the spread of the illness in Pennsylvania nursing homes, which have become ground zero in the pandemic.

It came at the same time that state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, issued his own call for Levine’s firing, saying that Levine “decided that it would be good to allow COVID-positive patients to be returned to elder-care facilities. And as a result of that, it broke out like fire,” PennLive reported. 

Speaking to reporters at an online news briefing Tuesday, Levine said she “[remains] committed to protecting the citizens of Pennsylvania, whether they agree with me or not.”

Through midday Tuesday, Levine’s agency confirmed 63,666 cases of COVID-19 in all 67 counties, reporting 4,624 fatalities.

With growing concerns over the number of cases of COVID-19 in the state’s long-term care facilities, Levine clarified that DOH has been ”reacting from the very beginning” to the challenges of keeping personal-care homes and long-term living homes safe. 

When asked if there’s anything she would do differently, Levine said, “We’re continuing to evolve our strategies.”

One of the new strategies DOH is employing is to test all the residents and patients at the state’s some 2,000 facilities. 

While there is no mandate under state guidance requiring everyone to be tested, Levine said adopting the new approach will help contain the virus. 

Additionally, the Health Department is now posting positive COVID cases and deaths at DOH and Department of Human Services facilities on the state health department website, but Levine reinforced that it is the responsibility of the individual facilities to share that information with family members.

Levine said the state health officials will continue to expand the state’s testing capabilities, adding that the commonwealth is actually “ahead of schedule” in its efforts to ramp up testing. 

Giving an update on yellow-phase counties, Levine said contact-tracing is underway in all of the yellow counties and said that so far, no spikes in cases have been reported. 

Speaking to the state’s contact-tracing efforts, Levine said, “We do have adequate staffing, but we’re working to increase that everyday.”

On Tuesday, Levine reported a pediatric death in an individual who was being treated in Pennsylvania, but was not a Pennsylvanian.

Commenting on the upcoming Memorial Day Holiday weekend, Levine acknowledged that for those in the red zone, it would be difficult, but encouraged everyone to continue practicing social distancing efforts over the holiday weekend. 

 “We cannot let this virus win,” Levine said, “and we will get through this together.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.