CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia’s color-coded map that regulates the operations of schools in the state is getting a new color: gold.
Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement Tuesday during a special press briefing. This followed a meeting the governor had Monday evening with his advisors.
The “gold” color is in between “yellow” and “orange” on the map.
“Without any question in my mind, the, the orange color code, the delta between the minimum and the maximum of the orange color code is just, frankly, too wide,” said Justice. “We’re going to insert, as I suggested yesterday, another color to our color code system, and that color is basically going to just do exactly just this. If you’ll just think about it, if you are a county with an 11, and you were in a col—in the orange color code that went all the way from 10 to 25, how can that county be looked at, in my opinion, in the same way that a county that may be at 22, and, and, and, and the difference is so dramatic that we need to change. We need to do something.”
According to the West Virginia Department of Education, the colors are defined as follows: green, minimal community transmission (3 and fewer cases per 100,000 population); yellow, increased community transmission (3.1–9.9 cases per 100,000 population); gold, elevated community transmission (10–14.9 cases per 100,000 population); orange, heightened community transmission (15-24.9 cases per 100,000 population); and red, substantial community transmission (25+ cases per 100,000 population).
Justice spoke about how a color change for a county that negatively affects in-person classes or sports could lead to counties not testing as many people for coronavirus as a means to mitigate such repercussions. The reasoning, according to Justice, is that by not testing people, officials can keep coronavirus numbers down and prevent counties from entering orange or red on the map.
“We have, two, a model that we’re going by right now called an incidence rate. Now, I know that, for you that are listening, it’s complicated, so we’re gonna change that name to an infection rate. Now, in the infection rate, if your county does 100 tests, and you get 12 people positive, it negatively impacts your county from the standpoint of your color code,” said Justice. “If that negatively impacts your county, then we have, whether it be coaches, or, or people or whomever, we have people that make decisions that say, ‘We should not test because the more we test, the more we hurt ourselves.’
“Now, we can continue on that path, or we can try to adapt and change. Because that path gives us not good information medically, it doesn’t help protect you, and in addition to that, it just gets worse and worse because all we test then are the sickest. We don’t ever test anybody that could be asymptomatic. We’d just test the sick people, and therefore, your county then just gets worse, and worse and worse.”
The governor also explained that there will be two figures taken into account to determine what color a county is: the infection rate, which examines the number of cases per 100,000 population, and the infection rate, which looks at the percentage of tests that come back positive. Whichever metric yields the better color code for a county will be used on the official map.
“We’ve added an either/or, whichever is less for your county,” said Justice. “This now becomes either/or, whichever one, because now we’ve added the positivity rate that your county has to get below 5%, which was the rate, the standard, the gold standard that everybody came out with. Your county has to get below on a positivity rate, which is completely different than the infection rate. Totally different. You have two different ways, or pathways, to a color code. You have an infection rate and a positivity rate. The positivity rate is driven by just this, the number of tests versus the number of positive, and everything, and that calculates the rate.
“So, on this side, the positivity rate is telling you, ‘Go get tested,'” Justice added. “You can do one of two things: you can sit back there and decide, ‘I don’t want to get tested,’ and the more that I sit there, then the only people that we’re testing in your county are the sick people. And, what do you think’s going to happen? It’s going to drive or skew the numbers in your county to—toward a poor color code. On the other hand, if you get tested from the positivity standpoint over here, it may very well skew your county to a lower and a better color code.”
Justice also touched on a suggestion to house quarantining West Virginia University students in a common area, in order to count the university’s positive cases as a single case, in much the same way as is being done with inmates at jails and prisons and with nursing home residents.
“The WVU people are working on that, and everything, but, uh, but we don’t have it, we don’t have it finalized yet, but every—everybody, everybody’s working on it as hard as they possibly can. You know, I, I can tell you that the W—the WVU people are doing great,” said Justice.
Justice said he will go into more detail on the issue during his upcoming Sept. 16 press briefing.