By Matt Petrillo


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania’s health secretary was put in the hot seat on Monday about the commonwealth’s reopening plan. In a virtual hearing, state senators grilled Dr. Rachel Levine over Pennsylvania’s plan to reopen.

Some Republican senators appeared to try to poke holes in the plan.

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“Are we operating on less than reliable data?” questioned state Sen. Bob Mensch of Montgomery County.

“Some are questioning if the goal is to stop the spread overall,” said state Sen. Scott Martin of Lancaster County.

“Why can’t we look at county by county?” asked state Sen. Judy Ward of Blair County. “We’ve all been good soldiers but the time has come for us to open up.”

Those are just some of the questions fired at Dr. Levine on Monday morning. She maintains the state’s plan to reopen will be rolled out slowly.

“We need to make sure that we don’t see an explosion of new cases,” Levine said.

The plan was announced last month and shows in order to get up and running, counties would need fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period.

If we look at just Philadelphia with a population of 1.58 million people, there would need to be less than 792 cases in two weeks time.

“It will be very, very important for us to implement more testing,” Levine said.

However, the health secretary was also grilled about where COVID-19-related deaths are happening most.

“Most of the deaths have happened in nursing homes,” said Democratic state Sen. Art Haywood of Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties.

“The estimate is in Montgomery County that as much as 80% of the deaths are in nursing or long-care home facilities,” Mensch said. “So I ask, does this skew the data?”

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Levine responded by saying statewide, two-thirds of deaths related to COVID-19 are in nursing homes.

“Long-term care facilities are a part of the counties and included in the rates we see in the counties in terms of the number of cases,” she explained.

Levine added counties in the southeastern part of the state will reopen much more slower than other parts.

Twenty-four counties in north-central and northwestern Pennsylvania will begin to reopen Friday.