Just one day before his inauguration, President-elect Joe Biden announced he has selected Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s health secretary, to serve as his assistant health secretary.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate — which is split down the middle with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris set to serve as the tie-breaker — Levine, a biological male, would become the first openly transgender person in a presidential administration.
While the left is heralding the nomination as a historic “first,” many on the right — particularly those in Pennsylvania — are taking great issue with Biden’s decision to select Levine, whose policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic have faced intense scrutiny.
In May, Levine’s mother was moved out of a personal care home, a decision that came during an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases (and deaths) linked to nursing homes and elder care facilities, which some have argued is a direct consequence of directives put in place by Levine.
Much of the criticism goes back to a March 18 guidance, which stated: “Nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable to alleviate the increasing burden in the acute care setting. This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.”
Biden said in a statement Tuesday he believes Levine “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”
Harris has likewise praised the Pennsylvania pediatrician as “a remarkable public servant with the knowledge and expertise to help us contain this pandemic and protect and improve the health and well-being of the American people.”
Conservatives in the Keystone State, however, have a much different idea of Levine.
The Pennsylvania health secretary has, as stated above, taken heat for returning residents back to nursing home and elder care facilities after they have been treated for COVID-19. Levine argued it’s fine to do because “the virus was already there.” Of course, returning someone who has had COVID to the nursing home potentially re-introduces a greater viral load into the space.
Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano has been calling for Levine’s resignation since May. He has argued the doctor’s policies are to blame for the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Pennsylvania nursing homes.
“These failings are compounded by being complicit in the virus spreading through our elder care homes, triggered by unscientific and illogical directives, forcing them to re-admit COVID-19 patients,” he said, according to the Press & Journal. “Let me state this clearly: This order by Secretary Levine is responsible for the deaths of approximately 2,500 of our citizens, and displays the gross incompetence of someone unfit for office. The bottom line is Secretary Levine has failed to protect our most vulnerable population.”
Reps. Fred Keller (R-Penn.) and Scott Perry (R-Penn.) sent a letter to Levine in May, urging the health official to reverse the decision regarding nursing homes.
The lawmakers urged the Pennsylvania Department of Health “to change the requirement that long-term care facilities admit/re-admit COVID-19 patients and provide flexibility for facilities to make their own determination about whether to admit/re-admit COVID-19 patients on a case-by-case basis, reflecting the unique resources and capabilities at each facility.”
Levine, though, has claimed the directive is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As PolitiFact reported when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made similar statements, Levine’s claims are false.
“We are naturally confused about where the state is getting its information, why the rationale for these policies continued to change over time, and why this problem seems to be unique to Pennsylvania,” Keller and Perry said.