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Who is Rachel Levine? Pa. health secretary offers calm, reassurance amid pandemic

“She’s been exemplary in her public health approach and exemplary in her communication."

  • Ivey DeJesus/PennLive
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference on March 16, 2020.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a press conference on March 16, 2020.

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(Harrisburg) — Dr. Rachel Levine joined Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration amid a raging opioid epidemic, which up until now she had described as the worst public health crisis in the state.

Then came the coronavirus.

In the weeks since public health officials have scrambled to address and contain the potentially lethal public health crisis, Levine, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, has distinguished herself among medical professionals and peers, pre-emptively and proactively addressing the coronavirus and the state’s response to the virus.

“She has been exemplary in her approach,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Capital BlueCross. “She’s been exemplary in her public health approach and exemplary in her communication. She’s been thoughtful and measured. She’s been very good providing calm, timely and accurate updates. Her voice of reassurance has been very helpful.”

One month after the World Health Organization announced the coronavirus outbreak in late January, Levine directed her department to establish its Emergency Operations Center, and in early March 9, she began holding daily press briefings.

Health and medical professionals on the ground say that reassurance has been crucial.

“Everyone feels better when they know there is a plan,” Chambers said. “That’s what she is communicating. She gave us forewarning about avoiding crowds and has been providing ongoing updates…..I think that through her leadership, people have come to trust her. She is giving us the right direction…and planning.”

Brett Sholtis / Transforming Health

Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks to reporters Oct. 4, 2019.

Levine said her approach to leadership involves coordinating with others.

“I think it takes teamwork and collaboration,” Levine said in an interview with PennLive this week. “That would be one of the hallmarks of my leadership style and how I‘m working through this crisis. It is really important to work in teams and stay calm in the face of pressure and crisis.”

To limit the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Tom Wolf this week ordered a statewide shutdown, telling all “non-essential” businesses in Pennsylvania to close for the next two weeks. The governor has also closed all public schools this week and next week.

The Philadelphia region has seen the most cases but the virus is spreading across the state. There are now confirmed cases in 18 counties. Levine said state officials are working with hospitals to prepare for a surge of patients.

PennLive and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.

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