Education, Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

Justice, schools Superintendent Burch hopeful schools will re-open

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice offered no new coronavirus-related announcements during his Thursday press briefing, but did join with Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch to deny a bipartisan request from legislative leaders to close schools for the rest of the school year (see related story on the letter).

Burch said that the decision to extend the return-to-school date from April 20 to April 30 wasn’t taken lightly and was “disheartened” to learn of the letter.

“We want a single message out in the field,” he said. Children must know that people care and there’s an end to this period of confinement. School leaders want to have time at the end of the school year to let kids see their friends and teachers.

Clayton Burch

He said 42 states haven’t thrown in the towel on closing schools early, and teachers and families have remarkable job of remote learning so far.

Justice was asked if it’s problematic to have an election on May 12 – and many polling paces are in schools – why would he think it’s safe to bring kids back to the schools and congregate together.

Justice said, “They’re not easy decisions. They’re tough decisions. … I listened to my experts.” And to parents.

It was necessary to decide now to move the election from May 12 to June 9. But it’s not necessary to make that decision for the schools today.

“There are real values to being able to get our kids back in school,” he said. “I’m not doing to do something that basically denies our kids some level of hope.”

The latest state figures on positive coronavirus tests weren’t made public at the time of the briefing, but

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said that the projections showed that as of Thursday, West Virginia will need fewer ICU beds and fewer will die than the projections showed on Wednesday.

That’s all because residents are engaging in the right practices, he said: social distancing, hand-washing, not touch our faces. But we have to keep it up. “The future will be written by what we keep doing, not what we’ve done today.”

Marsh talked about wearing protective masks in public. He explained that coughing, sneezing, even throat clearing can possibly infectious droplets into the air. That’s the reason for social distancing.

The 6-foot spacing wasn’t chosen from a dartboard, he said, It’s believed to be the minimum safe distance from projected droplets.

Masks don’t so much protect you from others, he said, as they protect others from you by reducing the droplet spread – especially from those who don’t yet know they’re sick and might spread the virus to others unknowingly.

He cautioned that if you buy masks, don’t buy medical grade masks needed for first responders.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office has received more than 300 price-gouging complaints, which they’re investigating. He urged people to act reasonably concerning price-gouging and hoarding.

Morrisey was asked if the governor’s suspension of elective medical procedures was a back-door means of curbing abortions. He answered that the suspension was issued to protect public health, limit close interpersonal contact and preserve the use of protective equipment such as gloves and masks. If affects physicians and dentists. No one entity was singled out.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch offered two websites for people to obtain DHHR services and information during the stay-at-home period: to get online services from DHHR, and for the Family Resource Network.

Returning to the topic of education, Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Cathy Slemp described a program originated by Dr. Lisa Costello, a WVU pediatrician, created with the help of various medical education experts and inspired by Fred Rogers’ slogan, “Look for the helpers.”

The program, called #letsgogratitude, educates kids on careers that combat the virus, Slemp said – everything from doctors and first responders to janitors. The program also encourages the kids to share their gratitude for those workers through cards, signed photos and letters.

It’s spreading around the state, Slemp said, and other states are asking about it.

Justice fielded a question about the travel ban for people aiming to flee New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Louisiana, Italy and China, and what residents should do if they see people from those areas not obeying the 14-day self-quarantine.

Justice said residents who witness this should call their local authorities, who will follow up and demand the self-quarantine. Those who refuse to comply could be charged with obstruction.

Justice passed along a request from the West Virginia Rural Water Association, which asks people to not flush disinfecting wipes down the toilet. The wipes cause problems at treatment facilities.

He concluded with some comments on Easter, which is April 12. He urged churches to consider parking lot services. “Just don’t get out and intermingle together.” And he urged broadcast companies to consider broadcasting Easter services for people to hear or view from their homes.

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