‘We’ve Got To Get Afraid Again’: Justice Calls Off In-Person Schooling For Orange Counties
More West Virginia schools will be offering classes exclusively online after Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that he was tweaking the state’s protocols for operating schools during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That change comes as the state continues to lead the nation in the virus’ rate of spread.
Justice said that, going forward, counties designated as orange on a color-coded map of coronavirus spread will move to virtual learning settings. An orange designation — the second worst color to red — previously allowed counties to hold in-person classes and called on local officials to institute “aggressive mitigation measures.”
Holding in-person classes in counties designated as orange would put students and staff in unnecessary danger, according to Justice.
“I don't want to be sitting here with 10 children in a hospital — or a situation that we just saw on Fox News or CNN where three teachers across this country are now dead,” Justice said.
The announcement comes as West Virginia continues to report the highest R-t level, a measurement that tracks the coronavirus’ rate of spread. On Friday, West Virginia had an R-t value of 1.41, while Wisconsin — the next highest state — was reporting an R-t value of 1.22. South Carolina reported an R-t value of 0.86 Friday, the lowest in the nation.
R-t values above one indicates an increase in spread of the virus, while values below one indicate a decrease.
“Without any doubt, we have got to step it up. This is going the wrong way,” Justice said Friday. “We have got to step up all of our concerns. To just tell it like it is: we've got to get afraid again.”
The West Virginia Department of Education’s website states that school protocols will change if the 7-day rolling average of the state’s daily positivity rate exceeds 5 percent.
Justice said Friday that the state hasn’t quite hit that mark but is getting close.
“I think it would be a mistake to allow us to go to school in orange — and potentially just compound a situation for our teachers, service personnel or kids,” Justice said. “I mean, we're close. We don't want to add more wood on the fire.”
Justice first introduced the color-coded map for coronavirus spread in mid-August, as a guide for reopening schools. The state has tweaked the map’s metrics several times and is now using it for nursing home guidelines. The governor said Friday that additional tweaks to the system may become necessary.
There were 11 counties on Friday in the red and orange zones, barring them from offering in-person classes. Boone, Calhoun, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, Monroe, Pocahontas, Putnam and Wayne counties have been colored orange, while Monongalia remains the only county designated as red.
State education officials will release an update to the color-coded map Saturday evening at 5 p.m., determining which schools will reopen Monday. Counties in green and yellow will still offer in-person learning.
As of Friday morning, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 263 deaths from COVID-19 and 12,174 cases of the coronavirus. Of the total number of reported cases, 2,849 are considered active — the second-highest number recorded since the pandemic first struck the state in mid-March.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the expected time and date of the update to the color-coded map as Saturday at 9 p.m. In fact, state officials have said they plan to update the map Saturday at 5 p.m., which is now reflected in the story.