Gov. Justice Defends Decision To Oust Public Health Chief

Jun 29, 2020

Gov. Jim Justice is defending his decision to oust the state commissioner of public health after pointing to inaccurate reporting of coronavirus cases. 

In a Monday virtual news briefing, Justice fielded questions from reporters about the resignation of Dr. Cathy Slemp, who stepped down last week from her position as West Virginia’s top public health official. 

Justice has said other incidents led to him losing confidence in Slemp, but he has not elaborated on those situations. 

He said Monday that the data discrepancy that led to Slemp’s ouster — which stems from an error reporting cases at Huttonsville Correctional Center — did not cause resources to be misdirected or unnecessarily used. However, he said those inaccurate reports set off a false alarm to the public.

“While we have been the beacon of the nation, those wrong numbers are inputted directly to the federal government and really and truly, then, we are showing up on every national broadcast and everything else that our numbers are off the chart,” Justice said. “That’s not good for us, either. “

Justice added that there is “more work to do” in looking into the data reporting error at Huttonsville Correctional Center. 

He also disputed that Slemp was removed because of her comments about the rise of cases in the state.

On Wednesday — and just hours after relaying that the state had overreported coronavirus case numbers at Huttonsville — Justice announced that Department of Health and Human Services Sec. Bill Crouch asked for Slemp to step down. 

In a letter announcing her resignation, Slemp urged Crouch and others to “stay true to science.”

Faculty members at Johns Hopkins University — an institution from which Slemp is a graduate — say they were “stunned and troubled” by Slemp’s resignation and that the country needs public health officials “speaking honestly” about the ongoing pandemic.

According to an analysis of state testing data, West Virginia has seen an 89 percent increase in its positive test rate over the last 14 days.