- Alan Levine, a health care CEO with ties to several Republican governors in the South, addressed the cost of politicizing masks and pandemic precautions.
- Levine has a history of serving at the intersection of public health and politics in the South.
- Much of his concern, which he shared to Facebook, centered around children and COVID-19 surges.
Alan Levine is worried. For children. For hospitals. For the nation, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages through neighborhoods, schools and communities in the South.
The president and chief executive officer of Ballad Health — which serves 29 counties of Northeast Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky and operates a family of 21 hospitals in Tennessee and Virginia — posted on Facebook Wednesday expressing his concern over the direction of the pandemic, namely that it was still intensifying despite mitigation efforts such as vaccines, social distancing and masks over the last year.
Serving Republican governors in Louisiana and Tennessee
Levine has a history of serving at the intersection of public health and politics in the South.
He served on former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s cabinet as secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals and as Gov. Jindal’s senior health policy adviser.
Under Jindal, Levine was confronted with emergencies and crises not unlike the one facing America now: He oversaw health care response to 12 major hurricanes making landfall in Florida and Louisiana, managed Louisiana’s response to the H1N1 influenza outbreaks and led Louisiana’s effort to improve child immunization rates from ranking 48th in the nation to 2nd, according to his biography.
Levine also served as deputy chief of staff and senior health policy adviser to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush prior to his appointment to serve as secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
And now, he serves as an appointee of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s on the state’s Charter School Commission. Gov. Lee signed an executive order Monday allowing parents to opt children out of school mask mandates as many Tennessee schools are pushing back and requiring masks.
After years of helping shape Republican leadership and policy, Levine’s social media post questioned the party’s trend toward viewing pandemic safety efforts as affronts on personal freedoms:
“I’m a freedom loving, 2nd amendment supporting, federalist Republican, and while I strongly disagree with those who feel masking is an infringement on liberty, I do understand where these folks are coming from,” Levine wrote. “THAT HAVING BEEN SAID: political choices come with tradeoffs. Choosing individual liberty and freedom is a legitimate position to take, but what comes with that is to ensure you have a clear-eyed understanding of what the tradeoff is for yourself and for your fellow citizens.”
Kids and COVID-19
While Levine recognized that people’s “strong feelings” toward liberty when it comes to government-directed health recommendations are genuine, he warned of what that freedom may cost.
If the course of the pandemic continues to trend upward, he said, citizens must prepare themselves for exposure by children who can spread COVID-19 to families from school, especially if unvaccinated. His post referenced the shortage of nurses and hospital beds as compounding the problem.
Ballad Health only has 10 PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) beds, he wrote, with two currently occupied by teenagers on ventilators. Tennessee only has five legitimate children’s hospitals, he added.
Much of Levine’s post concerned children, who have been increasingly susceptible to rising COVID-19 cases in the last weeks. For youth who will be infected and hospitalized, he wrote, “our system of health care for children is not built for this kind of surge.”
Tennessee alone reported an average of 549 new COVID-19 infections among children age 10 and younger each day over the past week, according to virus data released by the Tennessee Department of Health on Tuesday. Additionally, at least 57 minors were hospitalized with the virus as of Tuesday, state data shows.
In Louisiana, 20 United States Navy healthcare professionals landed at Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center Wednesday to aid in the hospital’s increasing battle against a surge of COVID-19 patients, The Daily Advertiser reported.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in an Aug. 13 press conference that he resists imposing more restrictions on commerce and gatherings other than the state mask mandate already in place, according to the Advertiser.
Then, Levine called on parents to educate themselves on a condition that affects children and has been associated with the coronavirus: Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C.
MISC-C is a condition, sometimes deadly, where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs, according to the CDC. The CDC, as well as Levine, acknowledged that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been exposed to it.
Levine urged that the risk for COVID-19 transmission in schools, but the compound risk of MISC-C adds yet another layer of threats to children. Coupled with the upcoming flu season, infrastructure for tending to surges in child cases is already being tested, he said.
So, where does that leave personal freedom in all this?
“To me, the most important thing our institutions are supposed to do is protect those who are vulnerable any way possible while also preserving our liberty,” Levine wrote. “Regardless of how individual parents feel, our laws require vaccinations in schools, car seats for infants and toddlers, seat belts for kids, and we don’t let parents decide not to do these things because their freedom is being infringed upon … Society, and our legislatures, and our governors, have decided that the tradeoff is worth it because the evidence shows that doing these things protects our kids and our families from what might be devastating decisions by some to put their individual liberty first.”
Vaccines best defense against delta variant, surging cases
Vaccines, according to numerous regional and federal health officials, are one of the best defenses to stopping the spread, especially among young patients and those more likely to develop serious complications.
With vaccines available to anyone over the age of 12 and booster shots on the way come September for all Americans, states are looking to keep the immunity momentum going.
Molly Weisner is a digital producer for the USA Today network. Find her on Twitter @molly_weisner.