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Slemp ousted as state health officer following Justice rant

CHARLESTON — Dr. Cathy Slemp, the commissioner for the Bureau of Public Health and state health officer who helped guide West Virginia through its initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, resigned from her post Wednesday after Gov. Jim Justice publicly criticized reporting errors at her office during his daily press briefing hours earlier.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch asked for and received Slemp’s resignation after Justice “expressed to (Crouch) his lack of confidence in (Slemp’s) leadership ... due to a series of recent events involving issues under her direct control,” according to a news release from the Governor’s Office announcing the move.

In her resignation letter, a copy of which was provided to HD Media by the DHHR, Slemp urged Crouch and others to “stay true to the science.”

“COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any most of us have ever seen. 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,” Slemp 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.”

During Wednesday’s news briefing, Justice said there is “every reason to believe” the number of active COVID-19 cases in the state are less than what was previously reported due to recovered cases not being removed from the active case count.

Justice cited numbers out of the Huttonsville Correctional Center, in Randolph County, though he did not offer details as to what caused the alleged discrepancy in reporting at the facility or how long the numbers may have been inaccurate.

While saying he did not want to “throw anyone under the bus,” and briefly acknowledging the error could have been “a breakdown at the local level,” Justice specifically named “Slemp’s office” as responsible for putting together case reports.

“If we’re on our game and you’re listening to the governor say there are six active cases in Huttonsville, and you’re putting (reports) together and you’re sending them to me on active cases, and you’re looking at Randolph County and they’re reporting an active 100 and odd cases, then you’re not doing your job,” Justice said.

“To be good at any job, you’ve got to have passion for doing the job and doing the job right, or you’re just dead-level asleep at the switch.”

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Randolph County was reporting 51 active cases of COVID-19 and 103 recovered cases, according to DHHR. As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Huttonsville reported three active and 123 recovered cases.

Statewide numbers, updated daily on the DHHR coronavirus website, were corrected Wednesday, dropping from a high of 778 active cases on Sunday, to 688 Wednesday.

Slemp spent 17 years at DHHR, beginning as director of what is now the Division of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology in 1994, and serving as the state health officer from 2002 to 2011.

She returned to DHHR in 2018 as interim health officer when Dr. Rahul Gupta left the agency. In February 2019, she was named as the permanent health officer.

In her years away from DHHR, Slemp worked as a public health consultant for various organizations at both the local and national levels. She also spent several years in private practice.

East Huntington Bridge closes for inspection

HUNTINGTON — The East Huntington bridge between Huntington and Proctorville closed for inspection through the night from Monday, June 22, through Thursday, June 25.

The bridge, formally known the Frank “Gunner” Gatski Memorial Bridge, opened in 1985. It was closed to all traffic during inspection from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the scheduled days.

Drivers were advised to avoid the area and to use alternate routes, such as the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, while crews worked.

— The Herald-Dispatch

Cabell County sees spike in COVID-19 cases

HUNTINGTON — The Cabell-Huntington Health Department is alerting community members to what it says is a spike in positive cases of COVID-19 this week.

“Investigation is ongoing, but at this time, we have received reports of 10 new cases since yesterday,” physician director Dr. Michael Kilkenny said in a news release Wednesday.

The cases appear to be related to recent travel to South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, as well as community spread that is not travel-related. The health department’s case contact tracing unit is completing the interviewing process in these investigations and is advising isolation and quarantine procedures to those affected.

Health officials are recommending everyone to adhere to the protocols and guidelines discussed by the West Virginia Governor’s Office, the CDC and the state Bureau for Public Health — including social distancing, limiting face-to-face contact with others, frequent handwashing and wearing a mask or other face covering when in public or when social distancing is not possible.

“The rapid increase in new cases is alarming and is cause for all Cabell Countians to review their plans for travel, family get-togethers, and gatherings like graduations and weddings, since all of these can put you at risk to catch this disease,” Kilkenny said in the release.

“For the most part, these cases have occurred when face covering was not used, and distancing was not observed. If we are to continue to participate in these activities, we must use every available precaution.”

People also are reminded to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and to cover coughs and sneezes.

As part of Cabell County’s continued preparation and response for COVID-19, the health department is operating a call center to address general questions and concerns from Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., at 304-526-6544. Calls from 4-6 p.m. are routed to an after-hours answering service for distribution and return calls.

In addition, free testing will return to Cabell County this weekend. The state and the Cabell-Huntington Health Department will provide testing from 1 to 6 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the A.D. Lewis Center in Huntington. Proof of residency is the only requirement.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported as of 5 p.m. Wednesday there have been 156,960 total confirmatory laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 2,629 total cases and 92 deaths statewide.

Cases per county (case confirmed by lab test/probable case): Barbour (15/0), Berkeley (422/18), Boone (19/0), Braxton (3/0), Brooke (10/1), Cabell (97/3), Calhoun (2/0), Clay (10/0), Fayette (62/0), Gilmer (10/0), Grant (15/1), Greenbrier (52/0), Hampshire (40/0), Hancock (18/2), Hardy (41/1), Harrison (52/1), Jackson (142/0), Jefferson (212/5), Kanawha (263/8), Lewis (15/0), Lincoln (5/0), Logan (21/0), Marion (52/2), Marshall (38/1), Mason (16/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (27/0), Mineral (52/2), Mingo (12/3), Monongalia (145/14), Monroe (8/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (8/0), Ohio (76/0), Pendleton (12/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (23/1), Preston (52/12), Putnam (44/1), Raleigh (34/1), Randolph (154/0), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (11/0), Summers (1/0), Taylor (13/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (3/0), Upshur (13/1), Wayne (107/1), Wetzel (9/0), Wirt (4/0), Wood (57/4), Wyoming (7/0).

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that he, his wife Fran, and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted all were tested for COVID-19 Tuesday, and all are negative. Statewide, Ohio reports 46,759 coronavirus cases, with 2,755 deaths.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said there were at least 14,363 coronavirus cases statewide, 229 of which were newly reported Wednesday. There was one new death, raising the total to 538 Kentuckians who have died as a result of the virus.

Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s commissioner for public health, said state health officials have tied many of Kentucky’s cases to travel outside of the state, as well.

“We have now identified here in Kentucky numerous people that have returned from Myrtle Beach with COVID-19,” Stack said in a news release. “I have to continue to urge and beg folks to be careful. It is not the time to be cavalier because we have a scenario where a place that was just starting the reopening process went from being fine to a state of emergency in three weeks.”

Courtesy of West Virginia Humanities Council The Huntington Museum of Art opened as Huntington Galleries on Nov. 9, 1952.

Marshall coaches, AD take pay cuts during pandemic

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University’s athletic director, head football coach and head basketball coach will be among those taking a pay cut at the university beginning July 4 as part of pandemic-related budget reductions.

The three top earners of the Athletic Department will join 142 others on campus who will see a salary reduction as part of the first phase of budget reductions for the university, said athletic director Mike Hamrick on Wednesday during a meeting of the university Board of Governors athletic committee.

According to the latest figures available from the state public employee salary database, head football coach Doc Holliday’s total compensation was $789,367; head men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni’s total compensation was $550,000; and Hamrick’s total compensation was $310,979.96.

Information on the salary reductions was not available as of press time, but examples of salary reductions, according to the university, include 6% reduction at $107,900; 7% reduction at $133,800; 8% reduction at $175,400; 9% reduction at $215,400; and 10% reduction at $262,400. The maximum reduction will be 15% at $470,000, according to the university.

The athletic committee approved the fiscal year 2021 budget for the Athletic Department, which is reduced by $5 million. The budget, like the university’s overall budget, was built anticipating an up to 10% reduction in student enrollment. Hamrick and university chief financial officer Mark Robinson said the budget is a “worst case scenario.”

The cuts include $3.4 million from the university’s general operating funds. Like the university’s general budget, the budget cuts will be phased in based on enrollment in the fall.

The department is ending the current budget year at a loss of about $1.4 million. Though cancellation of spring sports balanced itself out by saving travel costs and athlete medical costs, the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament contributed greatly to the loss, Hamrick said. Loss of student fees was also a factor.

Hamrick said the budget cuts could be “catastrophic” for the department, but he was still optimistic Wednesday. Season football ticket renewals are more than 80%, a figure he said made him “fall out of his chair.”

He is also optimistic there will be a football season.

“I am not hitting the panic button,” Hamrick said.

In light of events around the country and a developing issue at West Virginia University, Hamrick and other university officials also provided the committee with details of how the department is handling social justice with student-athletes.

The athletic department reached out to Maurice Cooley, vice president of student affairs, for advice on how the staff and athletes could express their views and concerns surrounding current issues, from the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests to social justice in the NFL. Cooley facilitated a discussion among staff and some of the leaders among the athletes, including quarterback Isaiah Green and running back Brenden Knox.

The idea for the football team to kneel for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd’s life came from the meetings. Cooley said he was impressed with the maturity and rational thinking displayed by the athletes, who came up with several more ideas, including more scholarships for black students, organizing a voter registration drive in the fall and visiting schools in the area to talk about social and racial justice.

Green and Knox are also designing a T-shirt to raise money for local kids, Cooley said.

Cooley said ensuring avenues of communication were open and allowing athletes to speak freely on how they feel about current events is how the team can maintain unity.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story listed an outdated salary figure for Dan D'Antoni.