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School district flu protocols ‘in overdrive’ in face of COVID-19 pandemic

MORGANTOWN — Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Eddie Campbell said the district has put its normal flu season protocols in overdrive in the face of what is now a global pandemic, COVID-19 (coronavirus.)

“This is flu season. We go through this every year, really. We try to educate the kids from the standpoint of the proper procedures for washing your hands, how to cough and those kinds of things,” Campbell said. “Because of the notoriety that the coronavirus has received, we’ve just kind of heightened that sense of awareness.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, West Virginia has tested eight residents for COVID-19; seven were negative and one is pending. No cases have been confirmed in West Virginia at this time.

Worldwide, nearly 116,000 people are infected — at least 1,000 of those in the U.S. The virus has killed more than 4,200 people.

Campbell explained that the district normally considers canceling classes if there is a 15% absentee rate due to the flu. There have been individual schools that have approached that threshold, “but as a school system, we’ve never gotten close to that.”

Campbell went on to say that the 15% mark likely would not be the threshold if coronavirus would show up in Monongalia County.

“I couldn’t put a number on that, but I think this is a little bit different. It’s a lot different, actually. This is a different animal,” he said.

One of the ways the district is keeping up to date with the rapidly changing data is through the Joint Information Center, organized through the Monongalia County Health Department.

Monongalia County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lee Smith told the Monongalia County Commission that the county’s COVID-19 joint information command group met for the first time on Tuesday and intends to meet in some fashion twice weekly going forward.

He explained that along with the Monongalia County Health Department and Monongalia County Schools, the City of Morgantown, WVU, WVU Hospitals, Mon Health Medical Center, Health Right, the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, University Police and the Morgantown Police Department are all taking part.

“The focus is to have a joint message and eliminate any of the fake news that invariably gets posted on social media, so that there’s unity and everybody is aware of the current status,” Smith said.

He said the group has reviewed state code regarding quarantines and what power rests with the local board of health and health officer as well as the state health officer, Dr. Catherine Slemp.

“As a preemptive move, we met with [Monongalia County Circuit Court] Chief Judge Debra Scudiere yesterday afternoon. She was gracious and allowed us to bring to her attention what the existing code looks like,” Smith explained.

“If we get to the point to where we need to have quarantine and isolation, and perhaps even involuntary quarantine, we many need law enforcement, so the next move is to meet with the county sheriff to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Statewide, Smith said the West Virginia Office of Laboratory Services in South Charleston is conducting the six-hour tests for the virus.

He said West Virginia Poison Control has also incorporated COVID-19 information into its hotline, 800-222-1222.

“We’re working to keep the ship off the rocks and to be proactive instead of reactive,” Smith said. “I’m having conversations back and forth with the state on a daily basis. I am in constant contact with the executive level of West Virginia University as well as Mon General. We touch base fairly continuously so we don’t let anything get by us”