Gov. Justice, State Officials Address Misreported Death Related To Coronavirus

Mar 27, 2020

Following a misreported death, falsely attributed to the coronavirus, West Virginia health officials on Friday said they are considering new protocols to prevent the spread of inaccurate information.

Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials spoke to the public through a virtual news conference, a practice that has become commonplace as an effort to combat the continued spread of the virus.

The governor noted at least two occasions in which he was informed of deaths as a result of the coronavirus. He said both reports wound up being false.

“Being a high-risk state that we are, it is almost inevitable that that's going to happen. But it's still beyond tragic,” Justice said. “And so, I am now initiating additional safeguards to make sure — surely to the Lord above — we can get it right that someone has either passed on or not. There's plenty of chaos out there, but this is inexcusable in my book.”

Most notably, the Department of Health and Human Resources issued a news release Friday morning stating West Virginia had confirmed its first death related to the virus. The news release stated that a 76-year-old man with underlying health conditions had died as a result of complication related to the virus.

Officials reported that the man was associated with the Sundale Long Term Care home — a Morgantown facility that has seen an outbreak of COVID-19 with more than two dozen confirmed cases. 

Shortly thereafter, representatives of Sundale said that death was falsely reported by an employee. The nursing home took responsibility for the miscommunication to state officials. 

DHHR Sec. Bill Crouch also said his agency is exploring new protocols for confirming deaths. Currently, a medical facility or healthcare provider sends the information to a local health department, who then passes it off to state officials. 

“We can't tolerate those kinds of mistakes,” Crouch said. “So we're going to have a second confirmation, probably directly from the hospital.”

Crouch noted such confirmation protocols may delay relaying that information to news media and the public. 

As of Friday afternoon, the state has reported 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19.