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COVID-positive WVU students isolated at Arnold Apartments will count as 1 case for Mon County’s map status

MORGANTOWN — WVU students isolated in Arnold Apartments for COVID-19 will be counted as a single COVID case.

The was the bottom line of lengthy discussion offered by Gov. Jim Justice, COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh, Monongalia County Health Officer Lee Smith and Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Tucker on Wednesday.

Justice first posed the idea of finding a way to ease Monongalia County out of the red by counting WVU’s on-campus COVID-positive students in the same way as congregate jail and nursing home cases on Monday. Wednesday’s announcement was the result of talks among his advisory team on the topic.

Marsh said Wednesday the talks focused on providing for public health while safely opening opportunities to get K-12 kids back into classrooms – Mon schools haven’t opened their door yet as Mon’s been in the red on the School Alert System map since Sept. 8 when school resumed.

Smith said they’ve been examining the data to understand WVU’s impact on community spread. The chief reason Mon has been red, he said, is the high number positive cases in the 20-29 age group – anywhere from 60%-90% of the daily positives.

And the cases are concentrated in Morgantown, not the rural western half of the county, he said. There’s also no evidence that surrounding counties are seeing any spread, including Preston, where more residents come to work in Mon than stay in Preston.

WVU has realized its role in ensuring the health of the community he said. That, combined with the data indicated students isolated in Arnold Apartments should count as a single case.

Looking at WVU and at colleges and universities across the state, Tucker said that a key provision of counting all on-campus isolated cases as one is that those settings are monitored and secure. At WVU, the Arnold residents have 24/7 access to nursing; the building is guarded and entry is accomplished with swipe cards which provides accountability.

They are also looking at offering incentives statewide for off-campus students to come isolate on campus, Tucker said.

And “We’re paying very close attention to the mental health needs of our students who are in quarantine and in isolation,” she said. They will be offering remote counseling services and safe opportunities for those students to get outside.

On Wednesday, WVU’s daily campus isolation chart showed 277 total students in isolation: 65 in Arnold, 6 in university apartments, 118 off campus, 49 at home, 17 in Greek housing and 22 pending.

The new counting method, they said, applies only to Arnold Apartments. The others will still be counted individually as members of the community.

The new method will go into effect Friday, Justice said.

They are still working on how the change will affect Mon’s status on the County Alert System and

School Alert System maps, Marsh said. But they believe it may move Mon from red to orange.

Marsh also pointed out that the new two-prong method of calculating a county’s status – either infection rate or positivity rate (positive cases relative to the number of tests) shold help Mon trend to a better color and get kids back into classrooms.

But, he said, the positivity rate is boosted by more testing. On Tuesday, 3,710 tests were done; the number should be 7,000 to 8,000.

Other COVID news

The COVID death toll reached 290 Wednesday, with 10 more reported since Tuesday’s special briefing. There were 3,235 active cases. But the state’s Rt value dropped to 1.22, moving it from worst to 48th.

The Dominion Post asked about the state providing aid to Mon County bars – and any other affected buisnesses – as they remain closed while Mon sits in the red. Readers have often raised this issue and on Tuesday Delegate John Williams, D-Mon, wrote a letter to Justice asking him to devote $25 million of CARES money to affected Mon businesses.

In answer, nothing was promised, but Justice said, “We’ll look at it and everything. We’re trying to help in every direction we can possibly help.” He understands the exceptional pains in Mon.

Justice reported that with the federal support money for daycares set to expire Sept. 30, he has shuffled the state’s CARES funds in order to commit $6 million to them through the end of the year. The daycares receiving the support serve the children of 3,400 essential workers across the state.

And Justice was pleased to announce that the Mountaineers caught up with the Taters in U.S. Census responses: West Virginia and Idaho were tied for first with 99.4% response levels.

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