The Lead

Levine: ‘I don’t know’ when Pa. Health Dept. will respond to public records requests

By: - April 25, 2020 1:09 pm

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

Pennsylvania’s top public health official said Saturday that other legal work related to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has taken precedence over answering open records requests aimed at shedding light on how that effort is progressing.

“We’re in the middle of a global pandemic,” Levine said. “So, I don’t know when we’ll be able to address those.”

The Wolf administration has faced criticism from lawmakers and others, for instance, over how it granted waiver requests from businesses that were deemed non-essential in a shut-down order issued last month. To date, the administration has not released that information.

The administration has also faced push-back on social media over its choice to use online news briefings, where reporters must submit their questions through government officials, and don’t have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions in real time. The administration has said it’s following safe social distancing practices with the online venue.

Citing shuttered offices, Wolf admin. says it can’t process news outlets’ requests for COVID-19 waivers

As parts of the state move toward their gradual reopening on May 8, Levine said increased testing would be crucial.

“We will need to increase our testing resources,” Levine said. calling the shortage of testing resources “a challenge.”

Levine’s comments come as U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, said this week that the federal government would not be offering the state anymore personal protective equipment from the national stockpile.

Pennsylvania has received two federal shipments of N-95 masks, Levine said, but is low on gowns, surgical masks and gloves.

She said the state laboratory has obtained more supplies over the last week.

In the event that no more federal supplies are issued to hospitals across the state, Levine said that the Department of Health would make sure hospitals “have the supplies they need.”

So far, Levine said, she does not see the shortage or uncertainty of supplies becoming a challenge to the reopening process.

Moving from the supply of personal protective equipment to Pennsylvania’s food supply chain, Levine said state officials have had “extensive discussions” on the matter, adding that it’s been “a particular concern for Gov. Wolf.”

Fielding questions about what the daily life would look like after the reopening, Levine said, “I think that it will be a new normal.”

Along with the 50 cases per 100,000 people algorithm, Levine said other metrics, such as hospital capacity, contact-tracing, the number of high-risk settings and available testing will all be used to determine if a region is ready to reopen.

“We’re going to take all of that into consideration,” Levine said, calling contact-tracing “very important” to the reopening process. 

Levine said that the death rate from COVID-19 is still 10 times that of Influenza, emphasizing the importance of contact-tracing efforts – a huge undertaking by the department.

“I can’t tell you the amount of work that means,” Levine said.

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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.