CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says as many as 300 active COVID-19 cases listed by the state may actually be of individuals who have recovered from the virus.
Justice said at his Monday media briefing the failure to keep up-to-date numbers is one reason he lost confidence in former state Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp. Justice forced her resignation last week.
“We are probably looking at somewhere close to 300 active cases that could be pulled off this list,” Justice said. “Probably it won’t be that high but we have now worked through about half of that and we are finding too many mistakes.”
According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 627 active cases and 2,129 recovered cases as of Monday morning. Justice said the state’s “deeper dive” into the cases was continuing.
“The numbers today are not trued up completely but the numbers in the next couple of days will be totally trued up and we’ll move forward,” he said.
The department announced Monday evening it had completed its investigation and found the number of active cases in Randolph County was lower than stated on the department’s website. The department also noted it did not contact local health departments about verifying recovered cases.
“DHHR has made every effort to be completely transparent in the reporting of any data related to this pandemic and will continue to acknowledge any errors and discrepancies in the future and fix them as quickly as possible,” Secretary Bill Crouch said.
Justice first mentioned the reporting issue last week. He said Monday the biggest example of recovered cases not to be correctly counted came in Randolph County with the cases at Huttonsville State Prison. He said there are other counties with a similar issue.
“We had more active cases reported, I knew it,” Justice said. “We had more active cases reported than we had active cases. It means basically that we are over-reporting the sick.”
The state Bureau of Public Health, which Slemp oversaw as bureau commissioner and state health officer, works with county health departments to report active and recovered cases. Justice said Monday if county health departments need more personnel to track the cases he would provide financial assistance.
“If you need additional help the federal government is pleading with us, saying ‘We’re giving you the money for you to have the additional help,'” Justice said. “You and I both know we have to have accurate numbers.”
Justice indicated Slemp should have done more to make sure the numbers coming in from the counties were accurate.
“If you go from routine (work) to pandemic then you’ve got to have people who are willing to act and willing to move. There are a lot of different issues that happened here,” Justice said. “Are you on your game when just in Randolph County the health department doesn’t report the active cases being taken off and every day you’re just letting them go. Are you on your game? I don’t think so.”
Justice said he doesn’t think resources were wasted because of the lack in reporting recovered cases but he said it’s a matter of trust.
“The thing you’ve got to have in me is trust–trust that when I tell you something it will be correct and if I’m telling you numbers that are incorrect you lose confidence and I don’t want that in any way,” Justice said.
Justice said last week he’d be naming a new state health officer in the near future.
Justice on mandatory masks
Gov. Justice was asked again Monday about the possibility of making wearing a mask mandatory in public places in West Virginia and he appeared more open to the possibility.
“I know that it will divide us some but I’m absolutely continuing to be concerned and continuing to wonder if that’s what it’s going to take to get us to do better,” Justice said. “Our numbers are great and I’m concerned about the 4th of July. It’s surely still on the table. It may very well be that’s what comes to pass.”