Gov. Justice offers clarification on back-to-school color coding during Aug. 17 coronavirus press briefing


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Gov. Jim Justice began his Monday coronavirus press briefing by making mention of three additional people who have died from the disease in the state.

The total deaths in the state is now up to 160, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Back-to-school procedures continue to be a point of concern for officials. Justice reiterated that parents are being given options related to in-person learning versus online delivery. He also refuted assertions that the method the state developed for monitoring the ability of counties to hold classes in schools has been intentionally skewed to facilitate the return of students to the classroom.

“There’s been some, uh, saber rattling of the media, which is just as ridiculous as ridiculous can be,” said Justice. “And, from the standpoint that what we did is we made the metric for our mapping, you know, as to when we could go back to school, and we, we pushed it in a way that would make it, skew it to where it would make it more…it would appear that it would be easier for us to make it in a way to be able to force us to go back to school, which is so preposterous, it’s unbelievable.

“Nobody is going to pressure me in any way to put our teachers, our service personnel, our kids especially, back into a situation that I feel in my heart is not as safe as we can possibly make it,” Justice added.

One issue that has come up is how the state is counting outbreaks at nursing homes, jails and prisons and other closed facilities, as they relate to the color code system that is being used to determine for each county whether or not in-person instruction is permitted at a specific moment in time. The governor said an outbreak at a closed facility is being counted as one case for the purposes of this mapping system.

“We’re gonna tweak it just a little bit right now, and everything, and we’re tweaking it this way,” said Justice. “The people that are in the prisons, or the people that are in our nursing homes, those people are in a captive atmosphere. And so, to make it really, really, really simple, we count those people…on the metric that we use, as one.”

Therefore, a hypothetical outbreak of 10 cases of coronavirus at a nursing home would not necessarily prevent children from going to school, since this would only count as one case under this methodology.

The governor said another adjustment being made is how infected employees at such facilities are being counted. Last Friday, Justice said employees would be counted at a half rate, but the state has since gone back on that decision.

“One thing we want to tweak is just this, and we really struggled a lot with this,” Justice said. “We made the staff…if there were 20 in the staff, we counted that as half of that, as a 10. Well, we’re gonna change that back to counting the staff one-for-one. In other words, if there’s 20, we count it as 20.

“The reason we’re doing that is we can’t get around the fact that, although, they are at one nursing home, and they got this at one nursing home, yet they still go out into the community, and we can’t put our arms around ’em at that nursing home,” Justice continued.

West Virginia Department of Education map

Justice explained that the color coding the state is using for education is a modified version of a scale proposed by the Harvard Global Health Institute. He explained that “red,” “orange,” and “yellow” are all in line with what the HGHI proposes, while “green” has been modified.

“We’re challenging all of our counties to try to do as good as possible. All, every county wants to get in the green. Now, in, in doing so, the Harvard model said zero to one, you’re in the green,” Justice explained. “In all reality, many, many, many of our counties would have, would have looked at that as, ‘Well, you know, we can, we’re, we can get in the yellow, but we’ll never make it to the green.’ And, I want our people to all feel like they have an opportunity to win.

“From that standpoint, and really, that standpoint alone, I wanted us to have the opportunity for our people to get in the green,” Justice added.

The Harvard model lists “green” as <1 daily new case per 100,000 people, while West Virginia’s version will increase the upper limit to three. Beyond that, the upper limit for “yellow” will remain the same, and “orange” and “red” will not be modified, Justice explained.

“They had zero to one on ‘green,’ we’re gonna go zero to three on ‘green,'” Justice said. “Then, we’re gonna stay at exactly the level of ‘yellow.’ They were, at from one to nine on ‘yellow,’ we’re going to go from three to nine on ‘yellow.’ The exact same thing on ‘orange’ and the exact same thing on ‘red’ as the Harvard model.”

In addition to the color-coded map, the West Virginia Department of Education also has a listing of school re-entry plans by county. This includes information related to enrollment figures, the estimated number of virtual students and efforts to monitor student engagement, among other things.

The governor did express his happiness with the daily percentage of positive cases, which as of Sunday was 1.18%; however, the overall figures are a mixed bag, according to Justice.

“That’s great, but we did have 178 new cases over the weekend, and our active cases have decreased just a small amount from 1,973 down to 1,941,” said Justice. “Our hospitalizations have decreased just a little bit, you know, from 135 to 134.”

The reproductive number in the state is at .96, which is 13th best in the country, according to Justice.

The state continues to offer free coronavirus testing in various counties. Such testing will be offered next week in Webster County. It will be held Aug. 29, 9 a.m.–5 p.m., at Webster County High School.

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