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Gov. Jim Justice

State pandemic response leaders react to facilities’ errors in reporting COVID-19 deaths, provide update on latest CDC guidance

CHARLESTON — During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources recently discovered that more than 65 healthcare facilities across West Virginia – including hospitals, nursing homes, and others – did not follow COVID-19 death reporting protocols established by the West Virginia State Health Officer and, as a result, did not properly report all the COVID-related deaths that occurred in their facilities.

“This is coming from people that passed away at home, this is coming from hospice, from our hospitals, from our nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and from our jail facilities,” Gov. Justice said.

“Every single day that I come in front of you, I want to be 100 percent transparent and always tell you the truth,” Gov. Justice continued. “I promise you, this is totally unacceptable to me and I will dig, and push our people to dig in every way, to get to the very, very bottom of this.”

DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, through its Health Statistics Center, conducted a bi-weekly data match to examine COVID-19 associated deaths reported through death certificates, which revealed 168 COVID-19 related deaths were not reported to DHHR.

In her remarks during Wednesday’s briefing, State Health Officer and Commissioner for DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health Dr. Ayne Amjad said that the reporting errors occured in facilities in approximately 30 counties throughout West Virginia.

“These reporting protocols were established early in the pandemic and we’ve continued to remind facilities of these requirements,” Dr. Amjad said. “This practice is totally unacceptable, and these facilities must do better for the people of West Virginia.”

The vast majority (84%) of these deaths were from December 2020 and January 2021, which fits the standard timeframe in death certificate reporting.

Gov. Justice went on to say that he will properly honor each of the individuals who previously went recognized during his next regular COVID-19 briefing this coming Friday.

“Because I think it’s the honorable thing to do, I always list these people; their gender, the county they’re from, and their age. I always take real time to honor them and it’s exactly what we should do,” Gov. Justice said. “On Friday, I’ll read every one we missed, and I’ll do it with great honor. But, at the same time, it’s just a crying shame; that’s all there is to it.”

Additionally Wednesday, West Virginia COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh, took time in his remarks to explain recent updates to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance on COVID-19 as more Americans and West Virginians begin to be vaccinated.

“For people that are fully vaccinated – people that have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – and are at least two weeks removed from receiving their final dose, which is the timeline that your immune system is fully activated and giving you the immune response, if you are around other people that are also fully vaccinated and two weeks out from their final dose, then everybody is okay around each other to take your masks off, to be able to be together, to hug each other,” Dr. Marsh said.

“Separately, if you are an older West Virginian who has been completely vaccinated and you’re two weeks out from your last dose, and you want to go visit your family, your grandkids, then, as long as everybody is in a low-risk setting – and that means they haven’t been around people with COVID or in high-risk areas, they’ve been wearing their mask – then you are also okay to be around each other without masks on,” Dr. Marsh continued. “If you’re with multiple people, some of whom have not been vaccinated or some of whom may have had higher risk activities, then the recommendation is that everyone should wear their mask and stay physically distanced.

“It has also been guided by the CDC that if you’re fully vaccinated and two weeks out from your last dose, and then you’re around somebody who is later diagnosed with COVID-19, you do not have to quarantine, as long as you do not develop any symptoms,” Dr. Marsh added. “If you develop symptoms, of course, you should quarantine and get tested.”

Dr. Marsh also went on to say that, despite the encouraging downward trend of COVID-19 numbers in West Virginia, all residents should still remain cautious.

“We’ve just identified our fourth case of the United Kingdom variant of the virus. We’ve identified some California variants of the virus,” Dr. Marsh said. “We’re not seeing the explosive growth in these variants as some other states are. But it is a reminder to us that we constantly need to be vigilant and making sure that we are caring for ourselves and getting vaccinated when it’s our turn.”

To date, 198,835 West Virginians age 65 and older have chosen to be vaccinated, including 116,339 who are now fully vaccinated.

Any West Virginians age 65 and older who are still waiting on an appointment are urged to call the West Virginia Vaccine Info Line: 1-833-734-0965 to ensure that they are scheduled to be vaccinated. The info line is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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