West Virginia’s ongoing bad COVID-19 numbers sparked Gov. Jim Justice to change how the orange color code will affect schools statewide.
He announced on Friday that starting with Saturday’s weekly County Alert System map update, schools in counties that turn orange will go all-virtual. As of Friday, 10 counties were orange and one, Monongalia, was red.
Currently, schools in orange counties as of Sept. 8 weren’t permitted to start in-person classes, while schools in counties that subsequently turned orange will permitted to have in-person classes with masks required for grades 3 and up.
“We’ve got to absolutely know we can’t go to school in an orange county. … In in my heart believe it’s unsafe,” he said.
The change also affects athletics. Currently, under orange, athletic and extracurricular activities were limited to controlled practices and activities.
Now, he said in response to questions, athletic conditioning will be allowed to continue but face-to-face activities will be prohibited. While counties that turn orange won’t be busing in students for the following week, Justice said they should provide transportation for the athletes. The details of the transportation issue are still being worked out.
He said his team will be working on this through the weekend and he may announce additional tweaks and measures next week.
Justice agreed with a reporter who questioned why there are no consequences for adults in the counties that turn orange. He said his team is looking into that. “I’m sure as time goes forward we’ll be making more and more recommendations. … All of us are going to have to step up and do any and everything we can to shut this down.”
The bad numbers
While West Virginia’s numbers remain the envy of surrounding states, Justice said, they’re continuing in the wrong direction.
The daily positivity rate fell from 7.8% Wednesday to 4.18% Friday, but other numbers continued to trend south. Total active cases rose from Wednesday’s all-time high of 2,806 to Friday’s 2,849. The Rt value, indicating how fast the virus can spread, already the nation’s worst Wednesday at 1.35, rose to 1.42. Justice said that means every infected person can infect nearly 1.5 more people.
“All West Virginians are in this bucket together,” he said, “We have got to protect the health of all West Virginians. … We have got to step it up. This is going the wrong way. … We have got to get afraid again. We have gotten complacent.”
We need, he said, to “become one notch more concerned and one notch more afraid. … We’re dealing with life and death here.”
If everyone wears their masks and exercises common sense, he said, we can shut the virus down.
Justice also took an opposite stance from President Trump on testing. Trump has openly complained that more testing increases the number of cases and looks bad.
But Justice said the National Guard has urged that we need to test more people, at least 7,000 per day. Not testing enough may drive the numbers up because proportionately more sick people get tested. More testing will drive the numbers down because more healthy people will be factored in.
More testing also provides more information, he said. “The more we test the more we learn.”
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh reinforced Justice’s plea.
West Virginia took 110 days to reach 100 deaths, he said, and only 41 more to reach 200. Now we’re at 263. “We are at a pace to get to the 300th death much faster.” A University of Washington projection says we’ll reach 1,600 deaths by the end of the year.
He repeated his regular encouragement for people to keep the public good in mind, even though they may be growing weary of all the precautions and restrictions.
“Right now is a special time of service requirement,” he said. “That requirement is really on all of us” to protect and love each other by protecting ourselves. And we need to remember that people who spread the virus spread it before they know they have it.
Justice said the National Guard, following his order, has put together PPE kits for all school nurses consisting of an N-95 mask, gloves and a gown; and each nurse will have multiple kits. They were being sent out on Friday.
Justice and his team all acknowledged the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, and the sacrifice of the passengers of Flight 93 that crashed in Somerset, Pa.
“This date will go with us until we die,” he said. He declared Saturday as Heroes Day to honor first responders and their work during the pandemic.
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