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Gov. puts Randolph, Upshur in spotlight

ELKINS — Gov. Jim Justice put both Randolph and Upshur counties in the spotlight during his Wednesday press briefing, as the governor expressed his displeasure with several issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, Justice said incorrect reporting led to statistics showing that there were more active cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia than there actually are now. He stressed the importance of accurate reporting from the county health departments and said the state is working to figure out the cause of the inaccuracies.

“I depend on people and I really depend on their accuracy,” Justice. “I am really hung up on the right numbers. Its not good enough for me for it to be close.”

As an example of inaccuracy, Justice said that on Monday there were six active cases of infected inmates at Huttonsville Correctional Center, but on Sunday the Department of Health and Human Resources website showed that there were still 142 active cases in Randolph.

“There’s either a breakdown at the local level or there is a breakdown at our level,” Justice said.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Cathy Slemp, the state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health who helped guide the state’s coronavirus response, resigned.

“We’ve got to get our act together and clean up our numbers and get our numbers right,” Justice said during his Wednesday briefing.

“It is my responsibility to tell our people the right numbers and when I overstate the amount of the problem that we have … then I am scaring you when I don’t need to scare you,” Justice said.

Justice said he learned of the inaccuracy in the previous 24 hours. “I am not going to tolerate this,” he said. “As soon as we find out the absolute answers we will act. It won’t be long.”

Also during Wednesday’s briefing, Justice spoke about an outbreak in Upshur County related to the Buckhannon Stockyards. He said there are now 10 confirmed cases among attendees of two different auctions at the facility.

“These 10 cases are associated with a family-run business in two counties — Upshur and Lewis,” Justice said.

He said the stockyards have been closed and will not reopen until those who tested positive have been released from quarantine.

“If you may have attended this auction, please contact your local health department and they can assist you in any level of contact tracing,” Justice said. “We need to be able to do that to nip this in the bud the best we can.”

In a press release Wednesday, the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department announced a 13th case of COVID-19 in the county, with nine cases still active.

“Many of those are soon coming off quarantine,” the press release stated.

The health department also said it was now permitted to say that five of the cases in the county are related to Buckhannon Stockyards.

The press release said the health department has been diligent in working on contact tracing, which is a time-consuming and labor-intensive task which is a requirement of the state of West Virginia and the Centers for Disease Control.

The Buckhannon Stockyards canceled its June 17 sale and a post on its Facebook page said the next sale would not be until July 15.

A second release Wednesday evening recommended “all residents and visitors to Upshur County use face coverings, and practice social distancing, and those who have traveled or are traveling to a large or crowded vacation area to self-monitor/quarantine for 14 days upon return.”

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