MORGANTOWN — The color-coded County Alert System and School Alert System maps has a fifth color effective Tuesday: gold.
Gov. Jim Justice introduced his idea to have gold fall between yellow and orange during his Monday briefing and said then he planned a Monday evening advisory team meeting to hash it out. He also planned to discuss ways to factor infected on-campus WVU students differently to try to get Monongalia County out of the red.
WVU-related talks are still under way, he said during a special Tuesday briefing, but he and his team described the newly adjusted maps.
He prefaced the update by noting that Kentucky has adopted West Virginia’s map system with a fe tweaks, which reflects what a good plan it was. “Just because we had a good plan doesn’t mean we can’t make the plan better and better and better.”
Justice re-exlpained his thinking on the need for the change. The original 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 was 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 felt the gap was too wide. With 11 counties in orange and one – Mon – in red, 67,000 kids were not in school, including 15,000 special needs kids, he said Tuesday.
Gold will apply to counties with 10 to 14.9 cases per 100,000 and orange will range from 15 to 24.9.
COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh explained more of the reasoning behind creating the new color and an additional parameter for the color codes.
Adapting the Harvard Global Heath Institute’s COVID risk dashboard for West Virginia proved counter-productive for a couple reasons, he said. One, each new positive case made a county’s infection rate worse, potentially affecting the color-code status, and discouraged testing.
Two, the Harvard model wasn’t designed for rural states, he said.
So, to encourage testing and help counties shift from red or orange to gold or yellow, they’ve added a second parameter, Marsh said. They will continue to list the infection rate per 100,000 on a seven (or 14) day rolling average but they will also measure positivity: the number of positive tests compared to total tests.
The more tests performed, he said, the more likely the positivity rate will improve. To reach gold, the rate must be 5% or less; for yellow, 4% or less; green, 3% or less.
And counties will fall into a color range based on the better of the two parameters, so it will be either the positivity or infection rate.
Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch took the next part of the briefing. “How do we get more children in school,” he asked. That helped drive this change.
Superintendents of orange counties that turned gold Tuesday – Mingo, Logan, Boone, Putnam and Fayette, will be allowed to decide to resume in-person schooling this week or wait until Saturday’s map is posted.
Schools in gold counties will have face coverings required at all times for grades 3-12, along with some other restrctions, such as no assemblies or large group activities.
SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan said the new color codes will also affect sports. Grandparents may attend games in green and yellow counties. Games in gold counties will be against only in-county or other gold county opponents, with only parents and guardians permitted to attend.
Justice added that travel ball, where large groups come to a county for SSAC-sancitoned events, will be prohibited in gold to red counties.
With an eye on increasing testing, he said, the National Guard will provide amped-up free testing capabilities, especially for gold to red counties, starting with Mon. Two units were being sent to Mon for testing.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the School Alert System Map had been updated to include gold counties but the Department of Health and Human Resources County Alert System map had not.
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