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Gov. Justice announces updates to school reopening plan

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In his Monday media-briefing, Gov. Jim Justice spoke extensively about the plan to reopen WV schools next Tuesday. During his remarks, Gov. Justice highlighted several updates to the existing strategy.

The development of the state’s plan was first announced at the Governor’s briefing back on August 5, and now consists of a color-coded, county-by-county system. In addition to outlining the details, Justice pledged “there’s no chance in the world, to the best of all my abilities, will I put a kid, a teacher, our service personnel, or anyone into a situation that’s unsafe.”

The color-coding system is grouped by county, and based upon the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents: three cases or less place the county in the green column; between four and nine cases designates the county as yellow; 10 to 24 cases is orange, and 25 or more confirmed cases marks the county as red. The number of cases are calculated on a rolling seven-day average.

The county map is updated by the Department of Education every Saturday, and reflects any changes in color which a county may experience. Color changes bring with them either increases or decreases in the restrictions imposed on both academic and athletic activities. As of Saturday, August 29, Monroe is the only county in the state marked red. Until they are downgraded to a minimum of orange, all in-person school activities are suspended.

The counties of Logan, Fayette and Kanawha are currently designated orange. Under the existing plan, schools within those counties would see their athletic activities “limited to controlled practices.”

However, in today’s briefing, the Governor announced an alternative approach to the orange counties, which the state could adopt this week. Under the Governor’s amended plan, every student-athlete and band member, as well as all faculty and staff would be tested. If all tests were to show a negative finding for Covid-19, then the students would be allowed to play. Should any of the tests return a positive result, then that school would default back to the original restrictions.

According to Gov. Justice, taking this approach provides schools with the opportunity to allow competition. The Governor went on to say that “this will give us the information we need to get these counties out of the orange.”

One point of importance is that this deviation from the original plan would be, as Justice put it, “a one time deal.” The state is not in a position to repeat this level of testing should the number of cases in other counties increase.

“We will run through fire to test everyone we possibly can,” Justice said. “We’ve got a week…we scrambled all the resources we can scramble. We are going to go test. This is the very, very best that we can do.”

Shortly after the conclusion of the Governer’s briefing, the Associated Press reported that officials in both Kanawha and Fayette County had rejected the alternate plan. Kanawha County schools stated that they will reschedule this week’s games for later in the season. Logan County, despite currently being marked as orange, is moving forward with remote-learning only for all county students. As athletic events had already been postponed, the Governor’s announcement did not apply.

Per the state’s plan, West Virginia schools are scheduled to reopen on Tuesday, September 8. The Governor’s final announcement regarding the status of the plan is expected today.

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