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Numbers: Accurate COVID-19 statistics are vital

It would not be a surprise if Gov. Jim Justice’s language turned even more colorful than normal and perhaps a bit angry when he was informed of a “communications lapse” regarding COVID-19.

If so, we don’t blame him. We agree, in fact.

Monday morning, the state Department of Health and Human Resources website showed 503 West Virginians had died from the virus since last winter. But the actual number was 530, Justice revealed during a press conference that afternoon.

“Today is going to be a terrible day from the standpoint of what I have to report to you. I have many, many deaths of great West Virginians to report to you today,” the governor said.

Since his previous press conference on Friday, 17 more fatalities had occurred, Justice explained. But the cumulative total of coronavirus deaths in our state actually stood at 530 Monday because of a lag in reporting of 27 fatalities.

State Health Officer Ayne Amjad explained the 27 previously unreported deaths were found by vital statistics analysts. It seems the 27 COVID-19 fatalities were noted on official death certificates — but not on “death reports” collected more quickly at the local level and forwarded to the DHHR.

Amjad added that some of the confusion may have occurred because nursing homes, hospitals or other facilities where COVID-19 victims died sent the death certificates in question to the state, rather than to local health departments. That resulted in the delay in entering the numbers at the state level.

We can understand that front-line health care workers at nursing homes, hospitals, etc., were preoccupied with trying to save lives rather than comply with paperwork requirements. But this is more than part of some bureaucratic process.

At least some — perhaps many — Mountain State residents watch the state’s COVID-19 reports closely. They help us decide how we, our families, our workplaces and our schools should react. Is it safe to go out to eat? How about whether our children are more or less likely to contract the virus if they go to school? Should businesses take more steps to safeguard employees and customers?

The numbers we see matter. They need to be as accurate and as current as humanly possible. For a time, they were neither.

If the situation has not been corrected, it needs to be immediately remedied. Lives may well be at stake.

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