Pennsylvania’s Transgender Health Secretary Focusing on Gender Identity in Collection of Coronavirus Data

Office of Gov. Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) office this week announced that the state’s health department, under transgender Health Secretary Rachel Levine, is focusing on gender identity and sexual orientation or expression in the state’s collection of coronavirus data.

“Governor Tom Wolf today took another step in his commitment to fair treatment and inclusion of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians by announcing ways the community will be counted in COVID-19 data,” his office announced on Wednesday.

According to the announcement, the Department of Health “will be conducting extensive case histories investigations as part of contact tracing on those who test positive for the virus” as individual counties begin moving from the red phase to yellow. As a result, the department will work with Sara Alert, described as a “new data collection platform,” and has requested a “system modification to the platform to collect sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data”:

The department has also requested from the eHealth Authority Board that the state’s six health information organizations work to capture sexual orientation and gender identity or expression data from electronic health records that can then be used by health care providers to report their COVID-19 data to the department.

The release also touts the Wolf administration’s commitment to working with organizations that are devoted to “non-discriminatory practices.”

The news comes as Levine, the nation’s first openly transgender health secretary, comes under fire over the department’s handling of nursing homes — particularly a March guidance that essentially instructed senior living facilities to accept patients who were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The guidance 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 settings. This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.

Nearly 70 percent of the state’s coronavirus-related deaths — 2,896 of 4,218 — are connected to nursing home facilities.

It was revealed this week that Levine removed his 95-year-old mother from such a facility during the pandemic.

While nursing homes continue to bear the brunt of the virus and questions continue to mount over the health department’s controversial decisions, Wolf’s administration has continued to place an emphasis on the gender-related issues.

That become even more evident this week after Levine lashed out at a reporter, who referred to him as “sir” multiple times during a press call.

“What’s the end game, sir?” KDKA Radio talk show host Marty Griffin asked Levine, who was born as “Richard.”

“Where do we get to the point where folks can be confident they can conduct business if they do it safely and there’s no time frame and there’s no window? Correct me if I’m wrong, sir — ma’am,” he continued, mistakenly referring to Levine’s biological gender.

Per the transcript:

GRIFFIN: How do you respond, doctor, to the conjecture that your response is jeopardizing the health and well being of seniors by moving them into nursing facilities even if they’re no longer COVID positive, sir?
LEVINE: So, please don’t misgender me.
GRIFFIN: I’m so sorry.
LEVINE: It’s really insulting.
GRIFFIN: I apologize. It’s not malicious. I apologize. I’m so sorry.

Griffin apologized on social media, contending that it was a mistake.

“I apologize. I apologized twice. I truly did. It was not intentional. It was not. I was not focused. I was doing six things at once,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) announced that he is opening criminal investigations into several nursing homes, as coronavirus deaths in care facilities soar. All the while, Wolf’s administration is, perplexingly, placing a special emphasis on gender identity and sexual orientation or expression in the state’s collection of coronavirus data.

According to the state’s health department data, 12,677 nursing home or personal care facility residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 2,896 have died as a result.

Roughly 1.8 million Pennsylvanians have filed jobless claims since the start of the pandemic.


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