Meet Rachel Levine, President Biden’s Disastrous Response to COVID

Meet Rachel Levine, President Biden’s Disastrous Response to COVID

On January 19 it was announced that Joe Biden planned to nominate Rachel Levine, the Pennsylvania (PA) secretary of health, for the position of assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services. This is potentially good news for Pennsylvanians, who will finally be rid of her after having had to endure her disastrous covid lockdowns and restrictions for nearly a year, but is likely bad news for the rest of the country.

News coverage of Levine’s nomination is focused almost entirely on the fact that if she is confirmed she will be the first transgender official to be confirmed by the Senate and barely mentions or completely glosses over her handling of the pandemic in PA. NPR doesn’t mention her track record at all other than noting that she, unsurprisingly, called for more federal funding to deal with the virus. The Morning Call at least reported that Levine has faced criticism over her handling of the virus response but failed to mention that under Levine PA nursing homes were forced to accept covid-positive patients.

After the announcement of her forthcoming nomination, Republicans began to attack Levine on social media, especially concerning her nursing home policy. In response, Newsweek published a laughable excuse of a “fact check,” asserting, “There is no evidence to support Greene’s [a Republican representative from Georgia] claim that Levine placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing home facilities, thus likely contributing ‘to the thousands of elderly deaths in Pennsylvania.’”

However, the author, Julia Marnin, seems to have failed to adequately research PA Department of Health guidelines. She cites a guideline issued in March of 2020 that states that nursing homes “must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable,” and that “This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.” Marnin then argues that this language didn’t mean that nursing homes had to accept positive patients but that “they can” and that there is no evidence that Levine’s policy “placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing homes or contributed to thousands of elderly deaths in the state.”

This absurd claim completely falls apart, since later Pennsylvania Health Department guidelines make it explicitly clear that nursing homes must readmit covid-positive patients and continue to accept new ones even if they are covid positive, as well. Guidance issued on May 12, 2020, states that “A positive test result is not a reason to refuse readmission to a resident” and that “An NCF [nursing care facility] must continue to take new admissions, if appropriate beds are available, and a suspected or confirmed positive for COVID-19 is not a reason to deny admission.”

Until the late fall/early winter surge in cases and deaths, roughly 70 percent of all covid fatalities in Pennsylvania were among nursing home and long-term care facility patients. Since the latest surge, that number has dropped to roughly 50 percent. Yet, even with the latest drop, it is clear that the state government’s nursing home policy has been a disaster, and the media does a great disservice to the country by sweeping a discussion of that record under the rug.

Perhaps even more disturbing than forcing nursing homes to accept covid-positive patients is Levine’s policy goal of social justice–based rationing of covid treatments that was released by the PA Department of Health under Levine’s leadership.

As I have written about previously, this guidance, entitled “Ethical Allocation Framework for Emerging Treatments of COVID-19,” states that “a core goal of public health is to redress inequities that make health and safety less accessible to disadvantaged groups—we show equal respect for all members of society by mitigating the structural inequities that cause certain communities to bear the greatest burden during the pandemic.” In other words, according to Levine’s department of health, public health isn’t just about medical health issues, it is about using the response to medical health issues to engineer society to promote “social justice.”

In this scheme, the state recommends that healthcare providers use a weighted lottery system to ration care and encourages hospitals to weigh a patient’s entry based on his or her socioeconomic status as determined by old data aggregated from census blocks. You would think that promoting “equality” would mean that whether you receive life-saving medical treatment wouldn’t depend on where you live, but some patients are apparently more equal than others.

The fact that someone who apparently subscribes to such a radical egalitarian agenda is likely to soon be one of the most powerful healthcare bureaucrats in the country does not bode well, as calls for the federal government to nationalize healthcare continue unabated. Levine’s radicalism, combined with the incompetence she displayed by forcing nursing homes to accept covid-positive patients and other heavy-handed lockdown measures, will hopefully at least lead to a serious analysis of her record during her Senate confirmation hearing. But don’t hold your breath.

This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.

Pennsylvanians Pushback Against Overbearing Coronavirus Lockdown

Pennsylvanians Pushback Against Overbearing Coronavirus Lockdown

As in the rest of the country, life in Pennsylvania has been greatly disturbed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the chaos that has resulted from the state government’s attempts to handle the situation. On March 16, Governor Wolf ordered that all “nonessential” businesses be closed for at least two weeks. They are still closed today, and as a result, 1.8 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment. At the end of December of last year, the state estimated that there were roughly 6 million employed persons in Pennsylvania. If we set aside all the workers whose incomes have been reduced through pay cuts or reduced hours, or who for various reasons have not filed for unemployment, still nearly a third of people who were working in December are now out of work.

Such an astounding figure is truly hard to comprehend, and its consequences likely haven’t been fully understood. It is therefore very understandable that Pennsylvanians around the commonwealth are eager to return to work and salvage the situation as much as possible before we are all left destitute. However, Governor Wolf, having assumed emergency powers, seems loathe to let that happen on anything other than his administration’s opaque and poorly understood timetable. Under the current plan, all counties are currently categorized as either red, yellow, or green, with red counties having the strictest restrictions and green ones allowing all businesses to reopen. By May 15, thirty-seven of Pennsylvania’s sixty-seven counties will officially become yellow zones. These counties will include nearly all of western and north-central Pennsylvania.

From the beginning, the entire shutdown process has been wracked with confusion over which businesses are essential and which ones need to apply for waivers to keep running. The waiver process has not been very transparent, and it is little wonder that the granting of a waiver to Wolf Home Products, the furniture manufacturer formerly owned by the governor, caused an uproar. As of May 10, the state had only processed 70 percent of the unemployment claims it had received.

There is not only confusion regarding the economic shutdown rules, but also over the public health approach as more and more data becomes available. On May 6, it was revealed to lawmakers during a phone briefing that of the roughly 3,100 virus deaths by that date, 68 percent had occurred in nursing homes and similar care facilities, that the average age of those who had passed was 79 (in a state where the average life expectancy is 78.5 years), and that 84.4 percent of the victims suffered from one to four comorbidities.

These shocking figures are even more tragic in light of the fact that the state’s aggressive plan for protecting nursing homes was never fully implemented. The state government’s incompetence is even more egregious considering the fact that the state health department issued a memo on March 18 stating that “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….This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.”

Although the administration apparently lacked the ability to enact their own plan for protecting nursing homes, Wolf did have the time to make sure to include radical progressive demands in his state recovery plan, such as an increase of the minimum wage to $12 which would be set to grow to $15 and an expansion of mandatory paid leave policies.

With such chaos, confusion, and incompetence in the background, it is little wonder that there is a growing sense of rebellion among both the inhabitants and local government officials throughout the state. All of southwestern Pennsylvania was declared free to move from red- to yellow-level restrictions on May 15 except for Beaver County. This exception, the county government believes, is largely due to the county’s stats being skewed due to a particularly lethal outbreak at a nursing home in the county that killed at least seventy-one residents. As a result, they declared that as far as the county government and law enforcement were concerned the county would be moving to yellow-level restrictions along with all of its neighbors on May 15. Local officials also pointed out that many residents who work in the surrounding counties will be free to travel in and out of Beaver to work, defeating the entire purpose of keeping the county locked down. This is not an insignificant number of people given that Beaver is part of the greater Pittsburgh area. What’s more, the district attorney announced that his office would not be prosecuting any violations of the shutdown orders and had advised all local police departments to not get involved in state enforcement orders.

This defiance was echoed by two other counties in the central part of the state, including Dauphin County, where the state capital of Harrisburg is located, whose officials released statements effectively saying that they would no longer participate in the enforcement of the red-level shutdown orders. The county sheriffs of two additional central counties also released statements saying that their offices would not participate in any enforcement activities. A few days later, these counties have been joined by an additional eight counties that are variously demanding that the state let them move on to the yellow phase or simply declaring that they are planning to do so. With nearly a third of the state now out of work, such rebellion is not surprising in the least.

Of course, Governor Wolf did not take such defiance lightly and unleashed a torrent of threats and abuse on the recalcitrant offenders, declaring that they had “decided to surrender to the enemy” and that they were “choosing to desert in the face of the enemy, in the middle of a war.” He then threatened to withhold any discretionary federal funds from any counties that rebelled, and then went even further, warning businesses that he would unleash the regulatory goons on them to make them bend the knee. Restaurants’ liquor licenses would be suspended, any business that reopened in defiance would no longer have business liability insurance, and they could risk losing certificates of occupancy and health certificates.

However, having already pushed thousands of businesses to the brink of extinction, it seems unlikely that Wolf’s threats have much persuasive power. The state simply doesn’t have the resources to hunt down every rebellious business owner, so at the worst, an owner is taking a gamble between going out of business for sure if the shutdown continues and facing regulatory headaches in the event that the state authorities actually manage to find out about it. Although the state department of health has set up a complaint form for people to inform on businesses, even state lawmakers have likened it to the East German secret police, and the form has reportedly been inundated with online trolls submitting bogus reports.

The situation in Pennsylvania is continuing to evolve, but it seems clear that Governor Wolf’s authority is collapsing by the day. The whole affair serves as an important reminder of the lesson at the heart of Étienne de la Boétie’s short book The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude: all political authority in rulers is, in the end, derived from the ruled. When such power is withdrawn, political authority is revealed to be impotent.

The governor may issue all the orders he desires, but without the cooperation of the lower levels of government and the people themselves, they are toothless. In the unlikely event that he desired to escalate the situation to enforce his emergency decrees, he would lack the resources to realistically do so, having only forty-seven hundred state police under his control who could not hope to replace the local police across the nearly forty-five thousand square miles that make up the state. Even if he tried, local district attorneys have already indicated that they will not prosecute such cases.

Pennsylvania has no shortage of problems and onerous laws and regulations, but we are very fortunate that our governance structure is decentralized to the extent that it is. With the third-highest number of local governments in the country, Pennsylvania is ideally suited for the kind of recalcitrance that is currently materializing against the centralized emergency decrees from the state government. Hopefully such resistance will lead not to chaos, but to more realistic policymaking that recognizes that disemploying a third of the workforce by decree is not a sustainable solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Zachary Yost is a Mises University alumni and freelance writer. This piece was originally featured at the Mises Institute and is republished with permission. 

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