By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
WELCH, WV – During the McDowell County Board of Education’s regular meeting on Monday, Health Department Director J.J. Rose spoke with members about current guidelines concerning prom and graduation.
“I asked Mr. Rose to speak to us today about the current guidelines for COVID-19,” said Superintendent Carolyn Falin to Board members. “I know you get a lot of questions as to why we have to delay graduation or why we have to cancel prom because of social distancing requirements. Just how this thing has affected the school system as a whole.”
Rose began with a rundown on COVID-19 testing across McDowell County, excluding data from nursing homes and childcare facilities.
“Through our 4 testing sites in the County, we’ve done 345 tests,” said Rose. “17 are currently still pending and we’re still at 6 as far as positives in the County.”
Senior Prom was the first event up for discussion.
“I know everyone at the Board, teachers, parents, everyone we’ve spoken with, wants it to be normal,” said Rose. “But unfortunately where we are today, that just cannot happen. I know for the kids this is the most important time, but they’ve got a long future to create exciting memories down the road.”
Rose also advised that the 25 person limit on gatherings was still in effect, whether indoors or outdoors.
“As far as graduation, we are at a maximum of 25 people for any gatherings,” said Rose. “That could change today or next week. We could go to 50 next month, we could also go back to 10. There’s so much unknown unfortunately, that’s why we have to err on the side of caution.
Rose said despite any criticism, he preferred to overreact to make sure people are safe than to under react at this time.
“Just because they say 25, doesn’t mean just 25 people. You still have to practice social distancing within that 25 and count everyone there,” said Rose. “You’ve got the students, parents or guardians, other family members. Usually you’ve got Board members there, principals there, escorts, security for traffic control.”
Rose advised them to wait at least until the 1st of June to set a date, allowing time for guidelines to change.
“The 21st is when we’re really going to open up as a County,” said Rose about the reopening of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, campgrounds and other lodging tomorrow, May 21st.
“Once we get through Memorial Day, you can’t say ‘Well, we survived Memorial Day’ the next Monday,” said Rose. “It’s going to take two or three weeks before we actually see numbers related to this weekend.”
Rose encouraged them to schedule graduation ceremonies as late as possible to give further time for guidelines to change, because breaking them is not an option.
“If those guidelines are there and we go outside of them, that’s on all of us,” said Rose. “That’s on you, that’s on me if I okay that. Nothing outside of the guidelines will be approved by the Health Department.”
While some may understand, Rose also acknowledged that some will not.
“Whatever heat comes with that, I will have your back. You can direct them to me and I will let them know why we’re doing it this way,” said Rose. “With six foot distancing requirements, how do you have a prom? I don’t see the six foot distancing going away for awhile, but this thing is fluid though, always changing.”
Rose said if guidelines were to change by July or August, the possibility of a prom may be looked at, but he didn’t anticipate it due to guidance and liability reasons.
“Some other stuff to talk about is possibly allowing some personnel to come back to work,” said Rose.
Dedicated entrances and exits, limiting badge access to only certain staff as well as PPE masks worn at times were some of the strategies mentioned to ensure the safety of returning workers.
“Anytime you’re around somebody, you want to have your PPE on if possible,” said Rose. “I know that’s tough but it’s where we’re at. I do see a way to have the employees back if that’s your wish and to do it safely.”
Rose said he was hopeful for an antiviral drug effective against COVID-19 to come along.
“If we get to the point of having an antiviral and quicker testing, that would really be a game changer,” said Rose.
Currently, ill residents visiting the 4 testing sites across McDowell County are required to return home and self-isolate until results come back.
“Sometimes that comes back in 2 days at the quickest, sometimes it can take longer. We want to get to the point of knowing you’re positive before you go home,” said Rose. “Something to prescribe that actually works with that, that will be a game changer. That would bridge us to a vaccine.”
Rose spoke about positive initial trials for potential vaccines, but some antivirals were now in the second stage of testing.
“This is all faster than ever, even if it seems slow,” said Rose.
Another key point for Rose was ending the false notion that children aren’t affected by COVID-19.
“They’re not affected as much as far as bad complications, but what we’re seeing is there are complications arising in the children now,” said Rose. “As we’ve seen in New York, there were over a 100. Something happened during that with the children, not a huge number, but there is something going on.”
Despite the low number, Rose asked everyone to imagine that sick child as their own, or grandchild.
“I don’t want a false sense that children aren’t affected,” said Rose. “They are getting through this, but there are those that something is going on with.”
Rose said the reopening of the trails was a concern, specifically asymptomatic visitors passing the virus along to County residents.
“What you worry about is asymptomatic people coming in, not know they have it,” said Rose. “Then if our people pick it up, maybe they’re asymptomatic as well. But maybe they take care of mom and dad, their grandparents, someone from church. Or if they have kids. I’m not saying we’ll see a spike, but we have to be ready.”
Rose praised McDowell County Schools for the contactless food distribution at schools across the County.
Superintendent Falin said the Board of Education had tentatively set a date for July 31st or August 1st.
“I like you guys going out that far,” said Rose. “Maybe we’ll be up to 50 or 100 by then. The further you get it out, the better chance we have of having more people there.”