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Officials say data shows WVU COVID-19 cases haven’t resulted in community spike

MORGANTOWN — The numbers don’t lie.

And the numbers support the change in how isolated WVU students are being weighed against Monongalia County’s overall COVID-19 statistics.

That was the crux of a Thursday work session hosted by the Monongalia County Commission that included representatives from the Monongalia County Health Department, WVU, the city of Morgantown, the Monongalia County Board of Education, the county prosecutor’s office and Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice announced that, much like the way jails or nursing homes are counted,  COVID-19 positive WVU students being isolated in Arnold Hall would count cumulatively as one positive case against the county’s color-coded designation, which is used to determine whether county schools can convene in person and hold extracurricular activities.

Monongalia County Health Officer Lee Smith explained that weeks of parsing WVU and community COVID-19 data shows the recent spike in positive cases among WVU students has not resulted in increased numbers in the surrounding community.

Data presented by Smith and County Commissioner Sean Sikora tracked the seven-day rolling average of positive cases among WVU students, both on and off campus, as compared to positive cases in the community between Sept. 7-15.

In that amount of time, the WVU numbers have gone from a high of 39.5 on Sept. 7 to 22 on Sept. 15. Over the same stretch, community numbers started at 4.6 on Sept. 7, topped out at 5.4 on Sept. 10 and ended up at 3.9 on Sept. 15.

Additionally, in that 15-day span, there have been 494 positives from on and off campus WVU students, 64 positive cases in the community and 55 positives that are unknown, meaning it’s not known if they are students, non-WVU community members or even Monongalia County residents.

“The numbers speak for themselves. We do not come in here with a set of directions that we’re going to go to and let’s see how we’re going to make the numbers fit that,” Smith said, adding the lack of community spread is also evidenced in the fact that the counties surrounding Monongalia County are not seeing numbers spike despite Monongalia County being a regional hub of employment. 

It was unanimous among the speakers, including Smith, Sikora, County Superintendent Eddie Campbell,  WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop and Morgantown Mayor Ron Dulaney, that the overarching goal is to bring the numbers down.

One way to do this, Sikora said, is a push to test more asymptomatic people.

“We’re looking at a plan for how we’re going to be proactive and start scanning asymptomatic individuals so that we can reach out into the community and break this chain and continue to drive these numbers down,” he said.  “Our goal is to one, break the chain of infection and, two, get back to some sense of normalcy. And for most of us who have kids, a sense of normalcy is having our kids in school and go from there.”

It was also agreed that the change in how isolated WVU students are being counted was the right move.

“I think what the data shows us today is very compelling, and I think it’s very reasonable, the decision the governor made to withdraw the Arnold Hall cases from our local data. I think it can be well reasoned,” Dulaney said.