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Coronavirus Surges Ahead of School Reopenings

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The numbers released on Wednesday by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources show a continued increase in both confirmed cases, and deaths related to COVID-19.

An additional eight deaths have been recorded in the state since Tuesday.

As of the time of writing, 441,396 COVID-19 tests have been administered in the state, which have revealed 10,642 confirmed cases. 2,146 cases are presently active, and 135 new cases have been reported within the last 24-hours. Both West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and the DHHR expect testing-numbers to increase more rapidly than previously seen as the state becomes more aggressive with identifying new cases.

The cumulative rate of positive findings has increased slightly to 2.41%. However, the daily positivity rate has skyrocketed to 4.93%. The numbers reported by the DHHR have been trending up over the past several weeks. This is somewhat alarming as West Virginia is still scheduled to open the majority of its schools in 6 days.

With the addition of the 8 deceased reported yesterday, the death toll has now reached 230 within the state. At his Wednesday coronavirus media-briefing, Gov. Justice had this to say: “I want you all to dial in and just think, think and pray for these 230 people.” The governor went on to say: “230 great West Virginians is a crying shame. They’re not statistics. They’re people.” Of the confirmed deaths reported yesterday, all were in their late 60s, 70s or 80s.

According to the CDC, coronavirus-related deaths across the United States have now surpassed 184,000. While 230 lives are by no means insignificant, the number in West Virginia accounts for but a small fraction of the nation’s total. This was something Justice was quick to point out, as he praised WV residents for their continued diligence in following state and local containment-guidelines.

“West Virginia is responsible for just slightly over 1/1000th of a percent of the deaths in the nation,” Justice said of the numbers. While WV’s raw numbers with regard to both COVID-19 cases and deaths, are remarkably low in comparison to nearly every other state, the per capita-percentages are quickly moving in the wrong direction. And this is coming at a time when the rest of the country is, for the most part, trending down.

As part of their COVID-19 Tracking Project, Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center tracks daily percentage-positives on a 7-day rolling average. As of September 2, their reporting shows the national daily-positivity rate to be 6.0%. While the national average is currently more than a full percentage-point above West Virginia, it has been on a steady decline since mid-July, when the daily rate reached it’s summertime peak of 7.5%. Conversely, West Virginia’s daily positivity-rate was reported by the DHHR as 2.95% just one-week ago.

Governor Justice went on to address the situation regarding school athletics and extracurricular activities within the counties currently designated as orange. Earlier in the week, the governor proposed a plan that would have potentially allowed these activities to move forward as originally scheduled. The plan involved extensive testing of all students, coaches and faculty members involved in any such activities. School officials in the impacted counties opted to reject the plan, a decision which Justice firmly disagreed with.

“We wanted to do something that would benefit all from the standpoint of finding additional medical information. We thought this was the very best move for our schools to give them the opportunity for our kids to go and compete and absolutely a way that we can learn so much more,” Justice said, in an impassioned statement. “And we turned it down. And that probably was not a good move because it would have given us more information. Now we’ve got to just move forward.”

Justice concluded this portion of the briefing by saying “we missed a real opportunity there. We would have saved somebody’s life…without question.”

The state is still moving forward with the plan to reopen schools on Tuesday, September 8. State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch stated Wednesday that school officials are “triple-checking readiness” ahead of the openings. The governor’s next coronavirus media-briefing is scheduled for Friday, September 4.

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