- Associated Press - Friday, March 19, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday that 20 coronavirus deaths went unreported, on top of the 165 deaths he announced last week that were previously not publicized.

The Republican governor vowed a “complete investigation, all the way down, to pinpoint exactly where the shortcomings are.” Those words appeared to suggest the problem may run beyond hospitals and nursing homes not reporting deaths to the health department, as officials said last week was the cause of the 165 unreported deaths.

“We got to do better. We are disrespecting great West Virginians,” Justice said. “There’s no excuse for it.”

Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, said part of the issue was facilities not reporting the deaths but that “in some cases, the information was transmitted to the local health departments,” which are supposed to then send it to the state department.

“We’re going to fix that,” he said, and “streamline this process somewhat.”

Justice did not say when the deaths occurred. Last week he said 84% of the batch of 165 deaths were from December 2020 and January.

At his Friday press conference, the governor also announced the state would establish three new clinics in the state that would allow anyone 65 and older to receive a vaccine, even if they show up to the site while on a wait list. He said 64% of senior citizens have received a shot, and he wants that number to be at least 85%.

State schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said the more than 38,000 public and private school employees who accepted the offer for a vaccine have received a shot.

“If you asked and wanted a vaccine, we got it to you,” he said. He didn’t disclose how many teachers and staff members declined.

In total, 23.5% of the state’s 1.78 million residents are partially vaccinated, while 14.5% are fully inoculated against the illness that has killed 2,600 people, according to state data.

Justice said he may announce within weeks when the state will open up vaccine eligibility to anyone who wants a shot. Currently, all residents age 50 and older can receive a shot, in addition to people 16 and older with underlying medical conditions and essential workers of all ages.

This week, the state has witnessed a small bump in hospitalizations, rising from 155 patients to 199 on Friday. The seven-day average for new confirmed cases is steady at 214.

Justice has kept a statewide mask mandate in effect while he lifted capacity limits earlier this month at bars, restaurants and businesses and allowed social gatherings of up to 100 people.

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