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Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday announced 34 additional COVID-19 deaths that had previously gone unreported.

The total of previously unreported deaths is now 219. The state announced 165 COVID-19 deaths on March 12 after officials learned of lags in the death reporting system. Justice announced March 19 that another 20 deaths went unreported.

Among the unreported deaths Wednesday was a 34-year-old woman from Wayne County and a 47-year-old man from Wetzel County. Justice also reported an additional four people who died of the virus since Monday’s press briefing.

With all these deaths now reported, as of Wednesday, 2,676 West Virginians have died from COVID-19.

Justice said an internal investigation into why the deaths were not reported has been completed, and he said he hoped Wednesday would be the last announcement of unreported deaths, but they “are still trickling in to us.”

“I can tell you that it is unacceptable to me in every way, and we are going to fix this,” Justice said.

The governor also announced the Department of Health and Human Resources will be implementing a new statewide electronic death reporting system in response to the errors. Justice said West Virginia is one of the few states in the country that hasn’t been using an electronic system.

Justice said “we didn’t think” the state would need an electronic reporting system at the beginning of the pandemic.

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president of health sciences at West Virginia University and the state’s coronavirus czar, said while deaths are plateauing in the state, positive cases are again trending upward.

“We continue to do well relative to the rest of the country, but we are also seeing an upswing in the number of cases over the last week,” Marsh said.

Hospitalizations are also slowly ticking up, Marsh said. As of Tuesday, 237 people were hospitalized with the virus. On March 12, that number was 151. Another 80 people are in intensive care units, and 22 West Virginians are on ventilators, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

The ages of those infected are going downward, Marsh said, with the average age of new COVID-19 cases being 34. He said it shows younger people are spreading the virus at a more concerning pace.

There have been 53 cases of the United Kingdom variant detected in West Virginia — mostly in border counties, Marsh said. Data has shown people infected with this strain of COVID-19 have a higher risk of dying from the virus.

State officials have also found 130 cases of the California variant. Marsh said this strain isn’t as lethal, but it spreads much quicker than the U.K. variant.

Marsh urged West Virginians to continue taking all precautions to slow the virus’ spread, as people are still dying every day.

Reach Joe Severino at joe.severino@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jj_severino on Twitter.

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