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Dr. Rachel Levine, the transgender state official who heads up Pennsylvania’s health department — a department now under fire for sending COVID-19 positive, potentially infectious patients back to nursing homes before they were deemed recovered — melted down during a press conference Wednesday after a reporter referred to Levine several times as “sir.”
The incident occurred during a press briefing discussing the state’s plan to reopen businesses and lift coronavirus related lockdowns. A radio personality named Marty Griffin called Levine, who is a male-to-female transgender individual, “‘sir’ in both his initial question and follow-up,” according to a local news outlet.
Levine lashed out, warning Griffin “please don’t misgender me” several times and calling the question “insulting.”
Griffin said later, on Twitter, that he apologized profusely and that he used the wrong pronoun in error.
“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,” Griffin wrote, referencing the incident.
It was too little too late, however. Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, defending Levine, canceled a morning radio interview with Griffin’s station — a punishment, he said on social media, for Griffin’s behavior.
“Cancelled interview w/ Lynne Hayes-Freeland for tomorrow,” Peduto wrote. “Not upset w/her, she’s always been a fair, strong journalist. But will not support @KDKARadio behavior. Growing up, KDKA had good people who made us proud to be from Pittsburgh. Now, it shock-jocks, sensationalism & worse.”
Critics of the incident took to social media to suggest that Griffin is transphobic, referencing an “error” Griffin made years ago, when he called “Chelsea Manning ‘Mr. Bradley,’ and said she’d had some sort of ‘bizarre sex-change thing’ going on,” according to PennLive.
Levine and the rest of of the Pennsylvania health department is under fire for a policy requiring state nursing homes to admit COVID-19 positive patients or face state disciplinary procedures — a policy that led to an eruption of coronavirus cases across the state. “Nearly 70% of Pennsylvania’s Covid-19 deaths, 2611 of 3806, have occurred in nursing homes or long-term care facilities,” the Daily Wire reported Wednesday.
Levine is also facing charges that she pulled her own mother out of a Pennsylvania nursing home before she could become infected with the novel coronavirus, but after it became clear that adult care facilities within the state were ground zero for COVID-19.
Levine insists that her mother requested the move and that it was not prompted by news that the infection was spreading quickly in the state’s care homes.
“My mother requested, and my sister and I as her children complied to move her to another location during the Covid-19 outbreak,” Levine told reporters. “My mother is 95 years old. She is very intelligent and more than competent to make her own decisions.”
On Tuesday, Levine announced that the state would begin testing nursing home residents and caregivers regularly to control the spread of coronavirus.