Gov. Jim Justice announced a new West Virginia Public Health Officer today, just a few weeks after pushing out the previous officer, Cathy Slemp.
“Not to slight anyone from the past, but now we have picked up an incredible West Virginian,” Justice said.
The new appointee is Ayne Amjad, a Beckley physician who also ran for Congress in the Republican primary 2018.
“I’ve known of her work on and on and on,” said Justice, who has longstanding ties to the Beckley area. “She is absolutely a star beyond belief.”
Amjad participated in a regular briefing Friday about West Virginia’s coronavirus response.
“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “Everything happened really fast.”
The governor noted that Amjad is coming on board during a particularly challenging time in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
West Virginia’s reproductive rate for the virus — the rate of its exponential spread — was highest in the nation, according to a website that tracks how fast the virus is spreading.
West Virginia’s rate was 1.37. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.
West Virginia also reported its highest daily level of hospitalizations on Friday since May 1. That number was 56.
And West Virginia’s daily percent positive — the number of tests divided by positive results — was 3.86 on Friday. State officials have wanted to keep that number below 3.
“You talk about wading into the pool when there’s a lot of activity going on. There’s a lot of activity going on, and it’s going the wrong way,” Justice said. “I’m sure she’ll be a tremendous help.”
Since 2010, Amjad has been a private practice physician specializing in internal medicine and preventive health care serving residents in Beckley, Oak Hill and Princeton. She also is the assistant program director of Encompass Health in Princeton and the medical director of PCH Home Care in Beckley.
Amjad has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Virginia Tech, a master’s degree in public health from West Virginia University, a medical degree from Marshall University, and studied internal medicine at Allegheny General Hospital.
Slemp was pushed out June 24 after Justice publicly complained about the accuracy of coronavirus figures during a regular news conference.
Justice described his “lack of confidence in Dr. Slemp’s leadership of the Bureau for Public Health due to a series of recent events involving issues under her direct control.”
The only specific incident he described involved discrepancies with active case statistics in a single county. Those numbers are reported from local health agencies up to the state.
In an interview published today by The Associated Press, Slemp cited decades-old computer systems and staff cuts over the years making the public health officer job even more challenging in the demands of a pandemic.
“We are driving a great aunt’s Pinto when what you need is to be driving a Ferrari,” Slemp told The AP.
Leaders at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where Slemp was a graduate, sharply criticized the decision to force her resignation.
“We are stunned and troubled,” wrote leaders at the school.
Slemp had been been the state health director since late 2018 with particularly high visibility while dealing with the coronavirus in West Virginia over the past few months.
Prior to that she was in private practice for several years, but from 2002 to 2011 she was also the state health officer and director of the Center for Threat Preparedness.