BY KATE EVANS
Last Friday Governor Jim Justice and state education and health officials unveiled the new metrics and color-coded system that will guide how in-person instruction, athletics and extracurricular activities will be conducted at West Virginia pre-K through twelfth grade schools.
The School Reentry Metrics and Protocols, which were developed by the Governor’s Office, the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, will be used to assess community COVID-19 transmission, according to the Governor’s Office.
The color-coded system will be based on the number of new daily cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day rolling average in each county. The new cases are population-adjusted per 100,000 so small and large counties can be easily compared, said Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar.
County color codes
Each county will be assigned a color each week — green, yellow, orange or red — based on the number of new cases and the severity of community transmission.
Green signifies 0-3 cases per 100,000 people and minimal community transmission. According to the state Department of Education, green means schools will stay open and continue best practices, which include social distancing, face coverings, minimizing exposure, hand washing/ sanitizing and disinfecting.
Yellow shows 3.1 to 9.9 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and indicates increased community transmission. Local education leaders and health officials will determine steps to address the higher case numbers.
Actions could include required face coverings for Grades 3 and up in group settings where social distancing is limited along with increased hand-washing and hygiene protocols keeping students in core groups, limiting activities where social distancing isn’t feasible and increased community engagement to prevent more cases.
Orange means 10 to 24.9 cases of COVID per 100,000 people and signals a level of heightened community transmission. Education and health department officials will take aggressive virus mitigation measures in schools and in communities.
Steps would include requiring face masks for grades 3-5 in congregant settings and in grades 6 and up at all times, along with increased community engagement to prevent escalation of the disease.
Red indicates 25+ cases per 100,000 people and substantial community transmission. All in-school instruction and all school-related activities would be stopped until a yellow level is maintained on a seven-day rolling average basis. Remote learning would be activated. Staff would continue essential student support services such as meals, student engagement and special education.
Athletics and extracurricular activities would go ahead in counties with green and yellow designations, and would permit spectators with limited tickets.
In orange counties, athletics and extracurricular activities would be limited to controlled practices/activities only.
Athletics and extracurricular activities in red counties would be suspended until a yellow level is maintained on a seven-day rolling basis.
The color-coded county COVID-19 status map can be found on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources coronavirus website under the heading Incidence rates: Daily New Cases per 100k. The map is labeled “School Alert System.”
Morgan County is right now considered a yellow county –showing increased community transmission — along with 22 other state counties as of Monday evening. Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire and Mineral counties are also coded yellow.
Boone, Mingo, Lincoln and Taylor County are colored orange, showing heightened community transmission.
Logan County is the state’s only red county, as of Monday, indicating significant county transmission.
Some 27 West Virginia counties are green, signifying minimal COVID-19 community transmission.
Governor Justice has marked Tuesday, September 8 as the target date statewide for the first day of school. A decision will be made by no later than September 1 about whether schools will definitely reopen on that date.
According to state information, all counties that are identified as green and yellow on the Saturday before the first scheduled day of school may start in-person instruction and can continue it as long as virus levels remain steady.
That means a county’s color coding on September 5 will determine the status of school for the following week.
Counties designated as orange or red won’t be permitted to start in-person instruction until yellow or green levels are reached on a seven-day rolling basis.
These counties will have full remote learning until yellow or green levels are achieved. Counties change to their official weekly status on Saturdays.
If a county rises to orange in its official Saturday status, it can continue in-person instruction under orange reentry protocols. Athletics and extracurricular activities would be limited to controlled practices and activities only with no competitions.
If a county becomes orange mid-week, athletics and extracurricular activities would be allowed to continue until the county reached orange levels in its official Saturday status.
If a county escalates to a red status at any time, regardless of the day of the week, all in-person instruction, athletics and extracurricular activities will be stopped the next regularly scheduled school day and won’t resume until green or yellow levels are reached.
Schools will ask students to do full remote learning until the county reaches yellow or green levels.
All West Virginia public, private and Christian schools are subject to the same color-coding scale. The new state School Reentry Metrics and Protocols will be in effect as long as the state as a whole stays below a 5% positivity rate based on a rolling, seven-day average.