Gov. Justice releases details on state school reopening plans, statewide internet program

Coronavirus

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice began Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing by noting the seven COVID-19 deaths in the state since Monday, calling the deaths “beyond horrible,” and pointed out that all were in different counties, showing how widespread coronavirus is.

Looking at the latest data, Justice said that the state is approaching testing 20% of population, with more than 300,000 tests completed. The state’s active cases are down, and hospitalizations have dropped by one, the governor said. Grant, Logan, McDowell and Mercer counties are currently showing the highest percentage of increase, according to Justice.

The governor doubled down on his message that quarantining may be necessary for residents who travel out of state, but clarified that it would only be necessary if the situation continues to get worse. He offered further clarification by saying that in the case it would be necessary, he would ask travelers to quarantine until negative test results came back.

SCHOOL REOPENING PLANS:

After hinting at an announcement about school reopening plans on Monday, Justice said that the state has safe methods to reopen schools on Sept. 8, provided that the situation doesn’t change.

Parents will have the options for both in-school and quality virtual learning, Justice said. Similar options will be offered for teachers and service personnel, he said, but he did not offer specific details on how that would work for employees. There will be a need for flexibility with staff members, state school officials said.

State officials have not finalized guidelines for mask requirements in schools, they said.

The state will develop a code/map system, involving four colors (green, yellow, orange and red), within 10–14 days that will be based on a scientific metric to track the COVID-19 situation in each county, Justice said. The map will be available for everyone to see, officials said. Having the map highly visible will serve as motivation for communities to keep COVID-19 cases down in their areas, Justice and state school officials said.

By Aug. 14, all counties will have to submit a plan to the state that will have to include 5 day-a-week student engagement and offer virtual options, according to the governor. Counties will also be required to have plans to feed students daily, regardless of if they are in school or learning virtually. Support services must also be offered to students, both in school and remotely, Justice said.

The governor also announced the $6 million Kids Connect Program, which will provide more than 1,000 wireless locations across all 55 counties, at all K–12 schools (688), 32 higher education sites, 255 libraries and all West Virginia State Parks (31) for students to have internet access. If students can’t get to one of those locations on their own, bus transportation will be provided, Justice said. He also said that schools will provide laptops or tablets for every student who does not have one. Many of the locations already have the internet equipment, state officials said, and “are up to the challenge” of getting it in place in the other locations, they said. The governor also said that this internet initiative “is just a band-aid,” and that more broadband expansion will be announced in the future.

Justice said that sports will be handled in the same way schools are. If a school is closed to in-school learning, its teams will not play, the governor said. More details, such as ratings systems, will need to be looked at by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, Justice said.

The governor also announced $1.6 million in funding that will go to private schools in the state to help them reopen. An additional $1.6 million could go to the schools when a pending lawsuit is resolved, Justice said.

Justice also pleaded with state landlords not to evict tenants during the pandemic.

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