CHARLESTON — Any county that is in the orange color code on the County Alert System this Saturday will not have in-person instruction in schools or any sports competitions next week.
Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday during his COVID-19 briefing that, given the rising number of positive cases in areas around the state, there is “no possibility that we should be back in school in these counties that are orange or red.”
“This situation is becoming more and more critical,” he said of the new cases, which have driven the daily positivity rate to 7.78 percent statewide, and set a new record Wednesday for the number of active cases, rising to 2,806.
“The daily positivity rate is going crazy,” he said. “We’ve got to turn this around. It’s a real problem in orange counties, in red counties it’s a colossal problem.”
Not only will the schools in orange and red counties be barred from having in-person instruction, Justice said he is also looking at the possibility of reimposing some restrictions in those counties, including shutting down some businesses.
“We are looking at that very closely,” he said. “It’s time to absolutely think about it … We don’t want to take anything off the table.”
Justice said that, with the rising daily numbers (147 in the last 24 hours as of Wednesday), “we are getting worse by the day … We are at a critical point and the odds are it could get worse.”
Justice said opening schools allows more exposure to the virus and “we have got to be super careful.”
Another county, Pocahontas County, became the eighth county in orange. Only Monongalia County remained in red.
Mercer County, after being in orange last Saturday, was in yellow, but Monroe County remained in orange. McDowell County is in green. The green and yellow categories allow in-person instruction as well as all sporting events and extracurricular activities.
The scores are based on a seven-day rolling average of new positive tests, adjusted on a per-100,000 population metric.
Justice also said the County Alert System map that is posted on Saturday to indicate what will happen in schools the following week will be posted earlier, starting Sept. 12, changing from 9 p.m. to 5 p.m. to give families more time to make arrangements if kids do not go to school next week.
“We’re going to back that up to give you a few more hours to line up what you would need for the next week if your county would happen to slip into orange,” he said.
“On Saturday night, we had 3,700 people per minute trying to log on to look at the map, so we know how important it is to everybody,” State Superintendent of Education Clayton Burch said. “We’ve also heard from many parents who have indicated that earlier would be better.”
“Nobody as dealt with this before,” Justice said. “There is no playbook. We’ve got to tweak as we go.”
Justice once again said the numbers started rising again after people started going on vacation, especially to Myrtle Beach.
“The bottom line is, I know you’ve got to live your daily lives, but when we tell you it’s not advisable to go to Myrtle Beach, and you do that, then it can cause real repercussions,” he said.
Justice said people returned from vacation, did not self-quarantine and had no symptoms, then brought the virus into nursing homes.
“We lost of a lot of people,” he said.
Concern has also been raised about people who traveled to the beach over the Labor Day Weekend.
Dr. Ayne Amjad, state Health Officer, said any new positive cases from such travel will start showing up in a “week to two weeks” after their return.
“We are at a crossroads,” Justice said, asking residents to “step up” and “show that mettle” by wearing masks and following the protocol of social distancing.
Justice also said more testing is needed.
“The more we test, the more we know,” he said. “We want bigger demographics because many are asymptomatic.”
The Mercer County Health Department is offering free testing Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the health department on Blue Prince Road.
— Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org