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Gov. Justice honors 165 deaths

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice took time Friday to read each of the deaths of 165 West Virginians who died of COVID-19, but were not reported to the state from hospitals, nursing homes and home health.

“There are days I have to report to you things that are not very pleasant, but this is totally unacceptable to me in every way,” Justice said. “We owe all these people respect.”

Justice first announced on Wednesday that 168 deaths were not reported to the Department of Health and Human Resources. Since the announcement, two deaths were determined to be unrelated to COVID-19 and one death was a duplicate, bringing the number down to 165.

“I hate like crazy the mistakes that are made and loved ones not respected like we should have respected them,” Justice said. “I do not understand the mistakes, nor do I think they’re acceptable.”

Facilities are required to send a one-page death report to DHHR when the death is due to COVID-19. DHHR’s Health Statistics Center within the Bureau of Public Health found the discrepancies when reviewing data compared to death certificates, which often take weeks to complete and turn in.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer, said the Bureau of Public Health would start reviewing death numbers every week instead of every two weeks to catch discrepancies between the daily death reports and the death certificates

“We do want to reassure everyone that this is taking place over the next few days and it’s a manual process that our (epidemiology) team is taking with all the facilities,” Amjad said. “We are going to take the time to go through the death certificates with the facilities listed to make sure it is done and fully vetted properly.”

According to DHHR, 84 percent of the delayed death reports occurred between December 2020 and January 2021 when COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at their highest. More than 65 healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and other groups were singled out for not filing death reports in a timely manner as per DHHR protocols.

Active COVID-19 cases continued to decrease in West Virginia though the decreases are slowing. Active cases dropped from 5,424 Monday to 5,280 as of Thursday. Hospitalizations dropped from 184 Monday to 159 Thursday. And the state reported 21 deaths since Monday, with eight deaths reported Friday. More than 13 percent of state residents are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 as of Friday.

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary since Justice closed public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one day after he canceled the girls high school basketball tournament as it was going on in Charleston at the time. Justice praised all West Virginians for their patience over the last 12 months as the state fought the pandemic.

“I could never be more grateful to all the people who have stepped up and shown their leadership, their bravery, their courage, and their dedication to their jobs and everything,” Justice said. “It is amazing, really and truly, what has happened in this great state to protect us like you have.”

In other news, Justice said he was encouraged by President Joe Biden’s remarks Thursday night. Biden set a goal of May to have all eligible people able to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine with a July 4 goal for Americans to start meeting again in small groups.

Justice said the state is ready to help administer more vaccines, though he criticized Biden for not giving more credit to former president Donald Trump and Operation: Warp Speed for getting the vaccine developed and distributed.

“We all want to be supportive and respectful of the president we have now, but the thing that is absolutely lacking in (Biden’s) tone and speech that I did not like, and it will come back to haunt, is his lack of appreciation for what President Trump did in many, many ways,” Justice said. “(Trump) took us to a situation where we had a vaccine and we had the vaccine within months when it could have taken years.”

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