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Justice proposes new gold color in county map, rethinking how WVU factors into Mon County COVID numbers

MORGANTOWN — A fifth color in the school re-entry map and a different way to factor WVU into Monongalia County were to among the topics of a 5 p.m. Monday meeting at the governor’s mansion.

Gov. Jim Justice said during his Monday briefing he wants his COVID-19 advisory team to ponder and possibly change those parameters. Monday evening, he sent out notice he’ll hold a virtual press conference on the discussions at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Resources’ County Alert System map showed one in the red – Mon – and 11 in orange. The similar Department of Education school re-entry map, which is updated every Saturday based on data submitted the previous Thursday also showed Mon in red but only seven in orange.

The map’s four colors – green, yellow, orange and red – are based on cases per 100,000 population. Red is 25 or more cases per 100,000. Orange is the broadest of the other three, ranging from 10 to 24.9 cases. On Monday, Monroe was at 11.3 and Kanawha was 22.14.

Justice did a lot of thinking out loud Monday about his ideas on the changes needed. He hadn’t run any of it by his team yet. “The parameter of orange is so wide – in my opinion way too wide. … I don’t think that’s fair.”

He talked as he does most every day of the need to be nimble. “It would be plain stupid to be stubborn and not change and adapt as we go forward. … I think that we can make things better by continuing to be light on our feet and changing.”

He wants his team to consider creating a fifth color – gold – to fall between yellow and orange. It would range from 10 to 15 or 16. Schools in gold gold could hold classes and sports teams could play against other gold teams.

Mon County and WVU

Mon County’s figure on Monday was 35.3.

“They’re so red in Mon County that they’re off-the-chart red,” Justice said. “And no question a big contributor to that is WVU.”

Justice wants his team to consider how to consider WVU’s case numbers to keep the county from skewing red. One might be to isolate all the positive students into a building or two and count them in the same way as a jail or nursing home – one case. “I’m not positive that is a solution, but at least it’s an idea.”

The Dominion Post asked Justice and COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh to expand on that because WVU’s campus COVID tracking is somewhat complex.

WVU isolates on-campus students at Arnold Apartments. Isolation means “avoiding contact with others for at least 10 days after a person’s testing date, as directed by the local health department. … Persons who are isolating should not be on campus for class or work at any point during their isolation period and must remain in isolation until medically cleared.”

There were 78 isolated in Arnold on Monday, but there were also students isolating at University Apartments, off campus, at home and in Greek housing, for a total of 409.

In addition, WVU has students in quarantine. “Quarantine means avoiding contact with others to the furthest extent possible for 14 days, as directed by the local health department. Persons who are quarantining should not be on campus for class or work at any point during this period. Persons are likely in quarantine because they’ve been considered a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”

On Monday, a total of 1,001 students were quarantined in various settings on and off campus.

Justice said, “We’ve got a big-time issue there, granted.”

Marsh described the various groups who are on campus and off campus. Students on campus are overseen by WVU while those off campus are overseen by the county health department. And there are some Greek organizations under WVU’s purview and some that dissociated and operate under their own council.

“As you rightly point out, it’s a more complex issue than just having one particular model, only.”

Justice added, “All of us know Mon County is bad. … Even if we add a color and we’re trying to get Mon County all the way down to 15 or less, well it’s going to take forever and a day.” And the K-12 kids haven’t been to school yet.

His goals for WVU, he said, are to get everyone who sets foot on campus get tested, get people quarantined or isolated as needed, “then how we count them is another animal unto itself.” That includes figuring out how to test and count the Greek houses.

WVU commented on Justice’s announcement, “We continue to look at steps to make sure we’re mitigating risk, monitoring WVU cases and accurately reflecting our campus and the community impacts of COVID-19. We continue to work with the Governor’s Office and community leaders on potential solutions.”

Other COVID news

West Virginia’s daily positive rate fell to 2.69% Monday, down from 7.8% Wednesday and 4.18% Friday. But active cases continue at an all-time high, at 3,184, with 275 deaths to date. The Rt value remains the nation’s worst, at 1.27.

Justice said he and his team will be considering additional measures for orange and red counties. It doesn’t make much sense to stop high school football in those counties but do nothing else.

On the football topic, Justice fielded a question about whether it’s fair to stop ball in orange and red counties while allowing WVU to play when Mon is the only red county.

Justice suggested some factors that contribute to the different levels of treatment. One is “testing, testing, testing.” WVU and the other colleges are testing nonstop. Another factor is WVU’s medical school. But bottom line, “It’s a very legitimate question to me.”

Justice was asked if regularly changing the map metric could be seen as unstable or confusing. He said no. “We’re plowing ground that has never been plowed. The amount of tweaking that has been done is almost nothing.”

Justice commented on Bible Center School in Kanawha County choosing to violate the order for school in orange counties to be virtual-only and hold in-person classes. “We’re going to cause a lot of heartache to a lot of different people. From the standpoint of running down and saying ‘You’re violating the law,’ you know you are, and it’s a crying, pitiful shame.”

But asked how he’ going to enforce the law, Justice said he prefers to keep talking with them. It may have to come down to sending the State Police there, but he’s not ready for that yet.

Bureau of Public Health reminded residents that flu season is approaching. With COVID on the rise people need to talk to consider getting a flu vaccine. “If you have any high-risk conditions such as heart disease, stroke, lung problems, it’s very important to have your flu vaccine this year.”

It takes about two weeks to build up the antibodies from the vaccine and most people get the vaccine at the end of October so residents should be thinking about it now, she said.

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