Claiming that COVID-19 cases were over-counted, Republican West Virginia Governor expels top health experts

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice forced a senior state health official after claiming that his office had overstated the number of coronavirus cases.

Dr. Cathy Slemp, the state health officer, abruptly resigned Wednesday, hours after Justice called her by name at a press conference, according to the West Virginia Metro News.

Justice, a Republican, announced that Bill Crouch, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Resources, asked Slemp to resign.

“After the Governor expressed to Secretary Crouch his lack of confidence in the leadership of Dr. Slemp of the Office of Public Health due to a series of recent events involving matters under his direct control, Secretary Crouch requested the resignation. from Dr. Slemp, which she immediately offered, “the governor’s office said in a statement.

Slemp has been the state’s director of health since 2018 and was highly visible at press conferences since the pandemic.

His resignation came after Justice, without explanation, alleged that the department had “overstated” the number of infections in the state.

“We had overstated the number of active cases we have. If you are going to do something wrong, we would all be happier if it is bad for the good side,” he said. “… We have every reason to believe that the numbers that I have been reporting to you over the past few days are perhaps inaccurate.”

Justice noted an outbreak at a prison in Huttonsville and claimed that the numbers in the county where the prison is located were over counted without providing any further explanation.

“If we were in our game here in [the Department of Health and Human Services] – in Dr. Slemp’s office – if we’re in our game, and you’re hearing the governor say that there are six active cases in Huttonsville, and you’re looking at the reports and you’re sending cases to me, and you’re looking at Randolph County, and They are reporting hundreds of weird cases, so you are not doing your job, “he said.

Justice said the state was still working to determine the discrepancy.

“We are digging into the numbers right now,” he said. “In any case, we’ve exaggerated the bad, which means we don’t have as much evil as we thought we did. But that doesn’t matter to me. I want the numbers to be correct.”

The department said in a statement to Metro News that it worked to manually remove some of the cases listed as active in the county, but dozens of active cases remain despite the governor’s claims.

“This was a unique situation specific to the Huttonsville Correctional Center outbreak investigation, as it required manual data entry,” the statement said. “On the COVID-19 Panel, Randolph County still shows 56 open cases. The Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services will work with the Randolph County Health Department to find out if there are additional case reports to be closed associated with that sprout. “

Slemp had decades of public health experience, the Associated Press noted. She was the founding director of the state’s public health emergency preparedness and response programs and is a member of the scientific advisory board for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Justice, a billionaire coal magnate who was elected despite having no political experience, has pushed to reopen “aggressively,” the outlet added. West Virginia has seen cases increase in recent weeks, and the country reached its highest daily amount of new infections on Wednesday. Justice has delayed calls to tighten coronavirus restrictions and implement a mask requirement as many other states have.

A similar situation developed in Florida, where the architect of the state’s COVID-19 data panel was fired after she said she refused to “manually change the data” to “get support” for Governor Ron DeSantis’ plan to reopen, that the governor denied.

Lori Tremmel Freeman, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said that “dozens of top health officials have resigned or been fired since the pandemic began,” according to The New York Times. Many have resigned after receiving threats in response to their public health policies.

Dr. Amy Acton, the chief health officer in Ohio, resigned earlier this month after numerous anti-Semitic attacks and armed protests outside her home.

Dr. Nichole Quick, the chief health officer for Orange County, California, resigned after protests and threats over her order to require the use of masks in certain businesses.

Emily Brown, the director of the Rio Grande County Public Health Department in Colorado, was fired after threats and rejection for urging tighter restrictions.

“There is a big red target on their backs,” Freeman told The Times. “They are becoming villains because of their orientation. In normal times, they are very trustworthy members of their community.”

“We have never seen this level of vitriol before,” added Kat DeBurgh, executive director of the California Association of Health Officials. “I am not only concerned with the present, but also with the future. When you are subjected to such harassment, who is going to intervene in these jobs?”