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West Virginia changes school re-entry metrics again

CHARLESTON — Citing the growth in COVID-19 cases across the state and an additional county slipping into the orange on the County Alert System color-coded map, Gov. Jim Justice said any county that slips into the orange will have to close for in-person school.

“We have got to step it up,” Justice said during his Friday coronavirus briefing at the State Capitol Building. “This is going the wrong way. We have got to step up all of our concerns. Just to tell it like it is, we’ve got to get afraid again.”

Starting Saturday night when the official school re-entry map is updated on the Department of Education’s website at wvde.us, any school that moves from the green or yellow categories into the orange category will not be allowed to open for in-person school and will have to switch to distance learning until they return to the yellow and green categories.

Justice said more details would be released later Friday and made available online, but counties that are orange as of Saturday night when the Department of Education map is updated will only be allowed to have conditioning practices. No face-to-face practices will be allowed.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, Boone County joined Calhoun, Pocahontas, Putnam, Kanawha, Fayette, Logan, Mingo, Wayne and Monroe counties in the orange category as of Friday, meaning there are between 10 and 24.9 coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in those counties.

Clay, Cabell, and Ohio counties are also within 2 points of leaving the yellow category and going into the orange category due to the growth of COVID-19 cases.

“As far as our counties that are going orange or our counties that are in the orange, it’s just flat in my opinion not safe with our numbers trending the way we are to continue to go to school if you go orange,” Justice said. “I don’t think we can do that right now.”

Monongalia County is the only county listed as red, meaning they have more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents and cannot have in-person school or fall sports/extracurricular activities. Those metrics are based on a seven-day rolling average of positive cases in counties with a population more than 16,000, and a 14-day rolling average for counties with a population less than 16,000.

Previously, counties that went into the orange could stay open for in-person school, but those schools had to prohibit assemblies and large group activities, require face masks for students in third grade or above, and limit extracurricular activities to controlled practices.

Once again, state health officials and public health experts at West Virginia University will meet Saturday morning to go over the latest case numbers and health metrics to ensure that the Department of Education map accurately shows which counties are in green, yellow, orange, and red. The map at wvde.us will be updated by 5 p.m. Saturday.

According to DHHR, of the 1,142 new coronavirus cases over the last seven days, 45 percent of those new cases are young people between the ages of 10 and 29.

“For every person infected, we’re infecting one and a half times that number of people as long as they’re out in the public and infecting those people,” Justice said.

Of the 20 deaths reported by DHHR this week, the average age of deaths was 77, with deaths ranging from two 59-year-olds all way up to a 93-year-old. So far, the state has seen 263 deaths from COVID-19.

There are 2,849 active cases of the coronavirus in West Virginia as of Friday. If current trends hold in infections, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects 1,602 deaths in West Virginia by the end of the year.

“We’ve got to continue to work together to protect the health and the safety of all West Virginians,” Justice said. “West Virginia citizens are no doubt the number one priority I have.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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