West Virginia gov. forces out top health official over coronavirus numbers

Hours after suggesting that West Virginia’s coronavirus numbers were overstated, Gov. Jim Justice forced out the commissioner of his public health bureau.

Cathy Slemp abruptly resigned Wednesday after the Republican governor vented during a news conference about the stat’s active virus caseload.

“If we were on our game here, in DHHR (Department of Health and Human Resources) and Dr. Slemp’s office, if we’re on our game and you’re listening to the governor say that there’s six active cases at Huttonsville and you’re looking at the reports that you’re putting together and sending them to me on active cases and you’re looking at Randolph County and they’re reporting a hundred-and-some-odd cases then you’re not doing your job,” said Justice without additional explanation.

The governor’s office said Justice had expressed his “lack of confidence” in Slemp to state Health Secretary Bill Crouch, who then asked for Slemp’s resignation.

A Health Department spokeswoman said in a separate statement that there were discrepancies related to caseload data at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County.

Slemp, who has decades of public health experience and was a regular feature during Justice’s daily pandemic briefings, was previously the acting state health officer.

She also is on the board of scientific counselors at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Justice, a billionaire coal businessman without previous political experience, has often said his aggressive plan to lift coronavirus restrictions was guided by his health experts.

He has so declined to strengthen the state’s virus restrictions in response to the spikes and has balked on mandating face masks in public spaces, as other governments have done, saying such an order would be politically divisive.

Instead, he has urged people to follow existing safety rules, encouraging them get tested for the bug and to wear masks.

The coronavirus has claimed at least 92 lives in West Virginia and infected about 2,600, according to state health data.

With Post wires

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