West Virginia Gov. Justice accepts resignation of top health official amid coronavirus

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice forced out a top health official Wednesday, hours after he publicly criticized the state’s active coronavirus caseload as potentially overstated.

The resignation of Dr. Cathy Slemp, commissioner for the Bureau of Public Health and a state health officer, comes after Justice expressed “his lack of confidence” in her leadership to Bill Crouch, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, the governor’s office said in a statement.

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Crouch then asked for Slemp’s resignation, which she offered immediately, the statement said.

Slemp has decades of public health experience, having previously been 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 has decades of public health experience, having previously been 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.  (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources)

Justice told reporters Wednesday there is “every reason to believe” that the state’s active COVID-19 caseload is smaller than what was reported due to recovered cases being included in the active case numbers, the Herald-Dispatch reported. He did not offer specific details.

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, The Associated Press reported.

Slemp helped guide the state response to the coronavirus pandemic and was a regular fixture at Justice’s daily virus press briefings.

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In a resignation letter, provided by the state health department, Slemp urged officials to listen to science.

“I encourage all to stay true to the science, to further work to engage and empower communities to address such an unprecedented situation collectively, to meet people where they are and to move forward together,” she wrote.

“It is with mutual respect, support, a willingness to look at and understand both the science and the factors that drive them, and a dedication to moving forward together that will get the state through this together.”

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West Virginia has reported 2,611 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 92 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the state health department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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