State officials change school plans; local vaccinations start for targeted groups
by KATE EVANS
West Virginia pre-K through eighth students will return to in-school instruction five days a week beginning Tuesday, January 19. Governor Jim Justice made the announcement earlier this week, laying out new guidelines under which public schools across the state would reopen. Local students in grades 9-12 may also start back to in-person instruction five days a week on January 19 as long as Morgan County isn’t red on the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) County Alert System Map .
The state’s DHHR COVID Alert map will now guide school operations, state officials said. A separate West Virginia Department of Education’s (WVDE) Saturday Education Map that was developed specifically for school openings and closings won’t be used anymore, said state education officials.
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and West Virginia Department of Education officials made the change in guidelines because they said many students are falling behind academically and not getting needed social and emotional support due to the lack of in-person instruction.
Families can choose to keep their children in virtual learning if they wish.
Remote learning till then
From January 4 through January 15, Morgan County’s schools will operate through remote learning. Teachers will use those two weeks to prepare for returning to in-person instruction, state school officials said.
Winter sports and extracurricular activities for public schools around the state have also been postponed until March 1.
The West Virginia Department of Education said it revised its in-school instruction guidelines to offer a “more consistent teaching and learning model for state students” following a December 30 press conference by Governor Justice.
State School Superintendent W. Clayton Burch said in the press release that “children need to return to in-person instruction, and when key mitigation strategies are followed, it is safe for them to do so.” Spiking COVID-19 transmission rates in communities aren’t being seen in the schools because of the cleaning and distancing rules that are in place there, he stressed.
Burch felt that research showed it was safe to bring students back into classrooms with teachers and each other. He said that students are suffering academically, socially and emotionally because of the lack of in-person instruction. One-third of state students have a failing grade in at least one core area.
“We simply have to get our students back in school, in-person,” Burch said.
Vaccines being rolled out statewide
The West Virginia Department of Education is working with the Governor’s Office, the DHHR and the National Guard to coordinate a timeline for COVID-19 vaccine rollout for all West Virginia school employees age 50 or older. County school superintendents will let their personnel know specifics about vaccine administration.
West Virginia started distributing COVID-19 vaccines to state residents who are 80 years of age or older on Wednesday, December 30. The Governor’s Office issued a press release regarding the vaccination plan for this age group that day and said that the West Virginia National Guard’s Interagency Task Force is finalizing plans for widespread vaccine distribution to individuals age 80 and older. Other priority groups, from health workers to patients at long-term care centers, have already been part of vaccination efforts since the first doses arrived in West Virginia.
There are limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccine right now, but an ongoing supply will be available for this age group through local Health Departments and at Federally Qualified Health Centers for their patients.
Local federally qualified health centers are Mountaineer Community Health Center and Tri-State Community Health Center in Berkeley Springs. Health Departments will announce vaccination locations.
As the supply increases, more vaccines will be available to the general population based on age and will be distributed on a first come, first served basis once they are available at sites throughout West Virginia. Vaccination clinics haven’t been scheduled yet by the National Guard.
Morgan County Health Department staff advertised and set up appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations for the priority age group of 80 years old and older on Wednesday, December 30 once vaccines were received. Health Department staff came in and administered vaccines on Thursday, December 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. first come first serve by appointment despite the agency being closed for the holidays. The Health Department can be reached at 304-258-1513.
The Health Department staff said in a Facebook post that they will give as much notice as possible when they have more COVID-19 vaccine doses available for priority groups and have openings for scheduling appointments for vaccinations.
As of Friday, January 1, state health officials reported that 49,037 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been given in West Virginia. A total of 103,375 doses have been received by the state and are being distributed through several regional hubs.