Monroe County Schools have been once again forced to pivot back to full remote-learning. As of Friday, October 16, all in-person learning and extracurricular-activities have been suspended through Friday, October 23.
Through a statement posted to their Facebook page on Thursday, October 15, Monroe County School Officials said they “will transition to remote learning for all students beginning Friday, October 16 through Friday, October 23. Students will return to A/B blended learning in-school on Monday, October 26. This decision is being made in conjunction with local health officials due to the increased cases in the County and not having enough substitutes to cover classes. Students will receive lessons remotely.”
The post goes on to say, “Please remember to follow the CDC guidelines and remain socially-distanced, wear masks, wash hands, etc.”
Monroe County, which started the school year on full remote-learning, has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 infection-rate after spending two straight weeks designated as green on the color-coded county map. On Monday, October 5, the County’s infection-rate was 3.77%, with a percent positive of 0.94%. By the following Monday, those numbers had risen to 9.69% and 2.24% respectively, And on Friday, October 16, the infection-rate soared to 19.91%, while the percent positive reached 4.13%.
While extremely frustrating and often confusing, this situation is nothing new for the students, families and school officials of Monroe County.
While speaking with the WV Daily News back on September 9, County Superintendent of Schools Joetta Basile said, “As you know, we started remotely. Our teachers have been preparing for this since last spring.”
Basile referred to the county’s school-staff as “rockstars.”
And then on Monday, September 12, Basile reiterated the county’s readiness to combat another wave of the virus.
“We’ve been preparing for this for several months,” Basile said.
Several weeks ago, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice set in motion an initiative designed to see “aggressive testing” happen across the state. This was done as a response to the statewide rise in COVID-19 positivity-rates. The recommendation from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the W.Va. National Guard was that the state should be performing an average of 7,500 laboratory tests each day until the pandemic has abated.
While West Virginia has only achieved that number on a handful of occasions, including the 11,095 tests conducted on Friday, October 15, the state’s average (as of the time of writing) has been 6,622 over the last seven-days. A total of 671,463 laboratory tests have been conducted since mid-March, accounting for 37.497% of West Virginia’s population.
However, only 5,854 COVID-19 tests, or 0.87% of all tests conducted statewide, have been performed in Monroe County. And the county’s eight coronavirus-related deaths make up 2.0% of West Virginia’s total. The state’s cumulative positivity-rate is 2.83%, while Monroe County is currently experiencing a rate of 3.16%; one-third of a percent higher.
On Monday, October 12, Justice was asked by the WV Daily News about the reactive nature of the push for aggressive testing, and if more could be done to establish free testing locations within Monroe County in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. Justice was non-committal in his response, and spoke in more general terms.
“In this situation of testing, I’ve gone to the (National) Guard and said you gotta add more teams. And they added more teams,” Justice said. “And I said no, no, no…that’s not good enough, you gotta add even more teams. So now they’ve added an additional 15-teams that the National Guard has that they’re running everywhere and testing. We continue to try to test in every way, and push ourselves to the total limit of our capabilities. You see, if we have anymore juice in the tank to be able to do more testing, and go out in these counties in a more vigilant way to be able to test more and more and more, I will check again and say General (Hoyer), or DHHR, or any of the pharmacies or any way that we can test more in the rural counties, in the areas that are absolutely moving. We can see their movement, and we’ll run to that fire just as much as we’ll run to the fire in the orange or the red counties, or the gold counties, which have absolutely been the number-one focus, and we know that. We want to continue to grow our ability. But, If we’re maxed out on testing, or we’re maxed out on the number of people we can put to it, then we can only run to so many fires, and we have to run to the red and the oranges fires first and foremost.”
The confusion surrounding the color-coded map system will no doubt continue this week. On the evening of Saturday, October 17, the West Virginia Department of Education updated their version of the map to show Monroe County to be designated as yellow. Although the WVDHHR map updated on Sunday, October 18 shows Monroe County designated as gold. And the Harvard map, last updated on Friday, October 16, has Monroe County designated as orange.
State officials have previously stated that the W.Va. Department of Education map is the final word on school activities for the upcoming week. However, based upon the scale that the color-coded system uses to determine designations, as well as the most current numbers released by the DHHR, it would appear that the county should, in fact, be considered gold by the standards of the West Virginia model. And to add an additional level of confusion, despite the positive COVID-19 findings amongst three-students at James Monroe High School, one student at Mountain View School and an employee of the technical center, no Monroe County School has been confirmed by the W.Va. Department of Education to be in the midst of an outbreak.
The James Monroe High School football team and coaching staff also remain under quarantine until October 20 due to exposure with an infected out-of-county student-athlete.
The W.Va. The Department of Education defines an outbreak as “two or more COVID-19 cases among students/staff from separate households, within a 14-day period in a single classroom or core group.”
The W.Va. Board of Education will next update the color-coded county map on the evening of Saturday, October 24.