Thursday, June 25, 2020

West Virginia Goes Viral

Florida and Arizona got caught fudging their COVID-19 numbers earlier this month until they could no longer hide the thousands of new daily cases exploding in their states, and Ohio's public health director was run out of town by hateful anti-Semitic bigots who threatened her family, so it should come as no surprise that West Virginia's GOP Gov Jim Justice has outright fired his state's top public health official and accused her of lying about the virus.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice forced out the commissioner of his public health bureau on Wednesday, hours after he publicly questioned the accuracy of the state’s coronavirus data and detailed growing outbreaks in about a dozen counties.

The abrupt resignation of Cathy Slemp, who was also a state health officer, came after the Republican governor vented during a news conference that West Virginia’s active virus caseload may have been overstated.

“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 your looking at Randolph County and they’re reporting a hundred-and-some-odd cases then you’re not doing your job,” Justice told reporters, without additional explanation.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the governor’s office said Justice had expressed his “lack of confidence” in Slemp to Bill Crouch, secretary of the state health department, who then asked for Slemp’s resignation. She resigned immediately, the statement said. In a separate statement, a spokeswoman for the health department said there were discrepancies related to virus caseload data at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County.

Slemp, who was a regular feature of the governor’s daily virus news conferences, has decades of public health experience. She was previously the acting state health officer and was the founding director of the state’s public health emergency preparedness and response programs, according to a biography on the state health department website. Slemp is also on the board of scientific counselors at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Justice, a billionaire coal businessman without previous political experience, had showered Slemp with praise as he hosted press conferences about the virus during the outbreak, often stressing that his aggressive plan to lift virus restrictions was guided by his health experts. Slemp did not appear at Wednesday’s news briefing.

Meanwhile, at least 72 cases in 11 counties have been linked to tourism travel to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and about 70 cases have been linked to church services in three counties, the governor said.

So a red state public health official with decades of experience was eliminated for being politically inconvenient, something playing out in dozens of red states across the country as COVID-19 explodes, infecting tens of thousands daily.

It will not end well for these states or the people in them.  A whole lot of people are going to die, deaths that people will realize were avoidable, and they will want answers from these red state governors.

It will be tragic.

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