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Justice: West Virginia’s active coronavirus cases still overreported

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice remained upset Monday about the number of active cases of COVID-19 on the website that tracks the data in West Virginia and again defended the forced resignation of the state’s health officer.

Justice, speaking Monday during a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol, said that the Department of Health and Human Resources’ coronavirus dashboard was still overreporting the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state.

“We have now dug deeper and deeper into the situation…we had more active cases reported than we had active cases,” Justice said. “It means we’re over reporting the sick. It really is a great problem to have found because we’re better than I’ve been telling you that we are.”

Active cases include the number of state residents who test positive for COVID-19 and are either hospitalized with severe symptoms or ordered to self-quarantine with mild or no symptoms. Active cases are cleared from the dashboard once a health department declares a patient has recovered.

As of Monday, the department reported 627 active cases of COVID-19 in the state — an 18.5 percent decrease from eight days earlier when active cases totaled 769. Since June 21, active cases have increased in 22 counties and decreased in 21 counties. Nine counties have no active cases.

According to Justice, there are as many as 300 active cases that could be pulled off the total of active cases.

“We’re now going back and trying to find every single situation with every one of our active cases,” Justice said. “We’ve now worked through about half of that and we’re finding too many mistakes.”

Berkeley County, which has the most active cases in the state, saw a 42 percent decrease in active cases over eight days — from 156 cases to 110 cases. Randolph County, where the Huttonsville Correctional Facility outbreak occurred, went from 142 active cases in the county eight days ago to 50 active cases. The facility, which saw 125 inmates test positive, now only has two positive inmates.

“As we went forward and everything and we got people well and we got past the 14-day period and people completely recovered and everything, we didn’t take them off the list,” Justice said. “It is imperative to me that our numbers be right. It is imperative to me that if we don’t have a real passion for what we’re doing and we’re not staying right on top of it, then mistakes happen. That’s not acceptable to me.”

Justice cited the slow removal of active cases from Randolph County as among the reasons he lost faith in Dr. Cathy Slemp, who resigned last week as the state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health in the Department of Health and Human Resources. The bureau is in charge of the Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services and the Office of Laboratory Services, the two offices on the front lines of COVID-19 testing since March.

“I’m not going to tolerate people who are somewhat asleep at the switch,” Justice said. “You’ve got to have real confidence in what you’re doing and what the people around you are doing, and that’s why I made the decision I made.”

“Cathy Slemp was a good person, but the bottom line of the whole thing is somebody has to be responsible,” Justice said. “There are a multitude of things that surely led to my lack of confidence and it is primarily driven from a lot of people who were working and interacting with her and everything.”

According to The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Health Department said the issues lie with the electronic reporting system the state requires counties to use when reporting or removing active cases. Due to the amount of information required by the system, the local health departments cannot close out recovered cases until all the required information is submitted, sometimes taking weeks to clear out individual cases.

Justice laid the blame on Slemp.

“If just in Randolph County the health department doesn’t report the active cases being taken off, and yet every day the numbers keep coming to you and you’re the head of the whole deal…and you’re just letting them go, are you on your game? I don’t think so,” Justice said.

Justice encouraged county health departments to reach out to the state for additional resources and funding to help close out cases.

“I want our local health departments to hear me…you’ve done one whale of a job and I’m so proud of you,” Justice said. “If you need additional help to see that these numbers are taken care of, I will absolutely partner with you from now until you know where freezes over.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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