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Justice annouces new school mask requirements, tweak for small counties for County Alert System

MORGANTOWN — Two changes to the color-coded County Alert System map for schools were unveiled Friday during the governor’s CVID-19 briefing.

First, mask wearing has been expanded, Gov. Jim Justice and schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said. In green counties, face coverings will be required for grades 3 and up on buses and in congregate settings – outside of core groups – where social distancing isn’t possible.

For yellow, it’s the same for grades 3-5; for grades 6 and up, masks will be worn at all times.

For orange, it’s masks all the time for grades 3 and up. When a county goes red, school is virtual so masks aren’t an issue.

Burch said new metrics will be posted each Saturday and apply for the entire following week.

Clayton Burch

Second, Justice and COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh explained the new, previously promised, method for calculating the color code for counties under 16,000 population. Their positive case rate per 100,000 will be measured on a 14-day rolling average instead of a seven-day average.

Small counties with 5,000 or 7,000 people have to have their cases multiplied several times over to reach 100,000, Marsh said, which biases the numbers against them. Doing some statistical math led them to go with the 14-day average to keep the metric more accurate for them.

Marsh said the the phase of the pandemic were not entering, with schools and colleges reopening, is perhaps the trickiest and the color-coding system will play an important role in identifying community spread. “The more we can control community spread the more we can control school spread.”

Burch talked about the reopening plans the 55 county boards have sent in. “There is no excuse for anybody not to be ready on Sept. 8,” he said. That means they all should have cleaning supplies, PPE and such on hand. The state sent out a survey so school can report what they lack and get it supplied.

The Kids Connect program – 1,000 WiFi spots around the state to support those without broadband connections – is proceeding on schedule, Burch said, and the National Guard has joined in, requesting that all 20 armories be added.

Burch announced a hotline for anyone to call who has questions about school re-entry: 304-957-1234.

Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said the County Alert System will be expanded to serve nursing homes.

The system, he said, will allow nursing homes to gauge community spread for visitation, especially in light of the growing nursing home outbreaks. Red will restrict visitation, except in compassionate care situations, and suspend communal dining and non-essential services.

Orange will continue visitation restriction in the same way but will allow communal dining and non-essential services. Yellow reopens visitation, he said.

Adjutant General James Hoyer warned residents about contract tracing scam going on. The scammers will phone and say you have come in contact with someone COVID-positive, and ask for your Social Sercurity or credit carr number.

Legitimate state and local contact tracers don’t ask for personal information, he said, and dont give it out.

Justice had hinted at new travel restrictions because of the influx of COVID from residents returning from Myrtle Beach and took a question about that.

“We have a had a lot of, lot of trouble from Myrtle Beach,” Justice said. They were looking at mandatory five-day quarantine followed by testing for anyone returning from there. The rest of the answer biled down to: The community case growth in the southern counties has slowed so they’ve taken no action.

The Dominion Post posed a question from some parents who’d heard it said that anyone doing virtual school this year will have to repeat their grade next year.

Burch said “that’s absolutely not correct.” Almost 20% of the state’s school-age kids, about 55,000 to 60,000 kids, have enrolled in virtual school. That’s an “absolute legitimate route” with the same content standards as in-person.

Justice daily urges residents to respond to the U.S. Census so the state can get its fair share of federal dollars and on Friday he announced a milestone.

“You make me so proud, that’s all there is to it,” he said. “You just absolutely light me up every day.”

The reason for his elation was U.S. Census Bureau numbers showing West Virginia ranks second, just behind Idaho, for statewide census response. Idaho is first at 91.7%; West Virginia is second with 84.5%; Washington is third with 84.1%.

In 2010, he said, the state’s total response was 74%. He urged those who haven’t responded yet to do so by the Sept. 30 deadline and get West Virginia into the 90% range. “We can’t get beat by a bunch of taters.”

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