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Local health official responds to controversy

ELKINS — A Randolph Elkins Health Department official on Thursday responded to a controversy regarding discrepancies in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in West Virginia, saying the problem is linked to the electronic reporting system being utilized by the state.

“We know exactly how many cases we have in Randolph County,” Randolph Elkins Health Department Infectious Disease Specialist Bonnie Woodrum told The Inter-Mountain Thursday.

On Wednesday during a COVID-19 press briefing, Gov. Jim Justice said incorrect reporting led to statistics showing that there were more active cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia than there actually were. As an example of inaccuracy, Justice said that on Monday there were only 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.

“It does hurt a little to be singled out as reporting inaccurate numbers – when we were lauded the week before by the Deputy Secretary for doing such a good job with our testing sites,” Woodrum said Thursday. “We truly are doing our best during this long, demanding crisis period.”

Woodrum said the discrepancy between the numbers the governor consults and the numbers the health department reports daily is linked to the electronic reporting system used to track and report cases.

“We receive our positive and negative reports from each Randolph County testing site and processing lab. We also receive positive reports from health departments in other areas for patients/clients who reside in Randolph County,” she said. “The state also receives these reports directly from the lab.”

Woodrum said state workers then upload the positive reports to the electronic reporting system. She said local health departments must fill in all the information regarding the case, including the duration of quarantine and monitoring for each case.

“Included in that report is a list of contacts of the positive case,” Woodrum explained. “Each of those contacts must be monitored, as well, and should symptoms develop or if the contact person tests positive, the health department must create a separate electronic report for that case — which must also include that person’s contacts.”

Woodrum said the report from the original case cannot be cleared from the system until all information is entered for all contacts of that individual. She said clearing the report “may take weeks after the patient has recovered and is no longer counted as active.”

She said REHD employees are devoted to the task of monitoring and reporting every nuance of the activity and to make the effort to contact each positive case and each contact on self-monitoring every day.

“At this time, contacts being monitored in Randolph County number between 35 and 40,” she said.

“(The) numbers (are) shifting constantly as some monitoring periods end and new ones begin. So, the difference in the numbers that the governor refers to, those listed on the electronic reporting system, and the count REHD releases each day — is due to the length of time it takes to clear cases from the reporting system.”

Dr. Cathy Slemp, the state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health who helped guide the state’s coronavirus response, resigned Wednesday after being openly criticized by Justice earlier in the day.

In a press release Wednesday afternoon from the Governor’s Office, Justice and Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch accepted Slemp’s resignation, citing a “lack of confidence” in Slemp’s ability to lead the office.

The resignation came after Justice used his coronavirus briefing Wednesday to rant about overinflated active case numbers reported by the Department of Health and Human Resources. Justice laid part of the blame for the inflated active case numbers at Slemp’s feet.

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