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46 counties start school Tuesday, but not Mon; WVU cases counted in Mon’s red status, rejecting requests to exclude it

MORGANTOWN — After 179 days of closure, schools in 46 counties reopened on Tuesday, state Superintendent Clayton Burch announced during the day’s COVID-19 briefing from the Capitol. “We’ve said from the beginning, our children need to be in school.”

But Monongalia County – the only county in the red on the Alert System map – was not among them, along with eight counties in the orange.

Gov. Jim Justice acknowledged that some of those counties in the orange expressed some dissatisfaction with having to go all-virtual for the week – pending Saturday’s new numbers,

But that was the plan all along, he said. “We didn’t want to start right back and potentially compound an issue that was already existing. … I want our kids back in school rally bad. … At the same time we have to follow the science. … I am so, so hopeful that these counties – that their situations will get down into the yellow and the green.”

Burch’s own county was in the orange, he said, and his kids had attend remotely. But he used that to remind them of their role in the country metrics. “Wear your mask. Get your numbers down so your community is safe and these schools can open.”

Superintendent Clayton Burch

COVID-19 Czar said that map is meant to be a tool to control community spread. A school that reboots in the orange may see new spread and have to immediately shut down.

Justice and Marsh fielded a question regarding school moms who are frustrated they can’t send their kids back to school for lack of daycare facilities, and wonder why the map doesn’t target and close businesses and churches.

Marsh said the map is a pubic health map, not just a school map. The decision on what to close or keep open is part of the precision approach to addressing those elements in a county that are at the root of the spread, such as closing the bars in Mon.

Justice responded that the color coding wasn’t good on Tuesday, along with pretty much all the numbers, including the daily positive case rate of 6.02%.

“I absolutely am not going to put our teachers and our service personnel and, God forbid, our kids in a situation that could make things even worse and could become tragic for a bunch, a bunch, a bunch of people. … I know it’s tough on those moms,” and on parents who may have to miss work for lack of daycare.

WVU and Mon County

With Mon County in the red, WVU announced Monday it was taking all undergraduate courses – except some Health Science programs with clinical rotations – temporarily back to all-virtual. President Gordon Gee attributed the move to an increase in student cases in Morgantown and several unsafe parties conducted with “reckless disregard of their fellow students and community members.”

During Tuesday’s briefing, Marsh called the move a “very brave decision” to try to curb the rate of spread over the next few weeks. That decision will also benefit Morgantown and Mon County and help get the schools back to in-person learning.

The Dominion Post posed a question about the conflicting requests coming to Justice’s office from Mon County.

A working group of school and community leaders wanted Justice to exclude WVU’s numbers from the county metric. The county’s five state delegates opposed that and wanted WVU kept in.

Justice said his office and medical officials had many talks on the issue – about separating out WVU from Mon, Marshall from Cabell, and so on.

“I absolutely believe that would have been the wrong thing to do. Those people travel and move through our community in every way. They’re part of our community in every way. … We know that WVU is part of the county. … They have to be counted within the county.”

Marsh had to leave early but Justice said Marsh might be able to expand on that during Wednesday’s briefing.

COVID numbers

Justice announced seven deaths since his Friday briefing, bringing the toll to 250. There were 86 new positive cases in the last 24 hours, 1,176 in the last seven days. The Rt rate of 1.28 was the highest in the nation.

Eleven schools in five counties has positive cases, with Kanawha topping the list with cases as six schools. There were outbreaks at 34 long-term care homes and five churches.

“We’re in an absolute war we’re trying to fight with this invisible killer,” Justice said.

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