CHARLESTON, WV – During his latest briefing with state health and education experts, Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday the addition of a new color – gold – to the School Alert System map; which determines the level of scholastic, athletic, and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for each particular week.
Counties in gold have 10.0–14.9 cases of COVID-19 infection per 100,000 people. Up until now, counties with these numbers were categorized as orange. However, in an emergency meeting that lasted into the evening Monday, Gov. Justice and state health experts determined that the orange category was too broad.
“Our original plan was put together with a considerable amount of thought,” said Gov. Justice, noting that White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised the map as “remarkable” during her recent trip to West Virginia, highlighting the plan as a leading practice nationwide for all states to emulate.
“But just because we had a good plan doesn’t mean we can’t make it better,” Gov. Justice added.
“We’ve got 67,000 kids that aren’t in school and we’ve got 15,000 of those kids that are special needs kids,” Gov. Justice said. “If we can get some of those kids back in school safely, should we not try to do just that? Should we not continue to try to change and adapt and make our system even better? Well I think so. And last night, in an emergency meeting we had with all the experts from several different fields, we have now come upon a system that is lightly tweaked, but is absolutely better.”
During Monday’s emergency meeting, Gov. Justice and state health experts also concluded that counties should be evaluated on two metrics when their color designation is being determined.
Up until now, each county’s color was based solely on that county’s infection rate; the number of people per 100,000 that had tested positive for the virus.
“Now what does that do? We are having people who make decisions saying, ‘We don’t want to test, because the more we test, the more we hurt ourselves,’” Gov. Justice said. “That path gives us bad medical information and it doesn’t help protect you,” Gov. Justice continued. “We want to encourage people to go get tested so we have more information and so we know where this virus is located.”
As a result, the Governor announced that, in addition to infection rate, counties will also be evaluated on their positivity rate, with factors negative tests into the equation.
Going forward, during each official Saturday map update, counties will be judged on both their infection rate and their positivity rate. The county’s more favorable metric will be used to determine their color designation for the following week.
The updated thresholds are as follows:
GREEN: 3 and fewer cases per 100,000 OR 3% or less positivity rate
YELLOW: 3.1 – 9.9 cases per 100,000 OR 4% or less positivity rate
GOLD: 10 – 14.9 cases per 100,000 OR 5% or less positivity rate
ORANGE: 15 – 24.9 cases per 100,000
RED: 25+ cases per 100,000
In the gold category, counties will be able to move to an in-person instructional model with restrictions including face coverings at all times for grades 3-12. Extracurricular activities are permitted and competitions may occur against schools within the same county as well as schools in other gold counties. Additionally, modifications to spectator requirements at extracurricular activities have been made.
Updated protocols for education, athletic, and extracurricular activities on the new color scale are outlined on the Department of Education’s website.
As a part of this reset, students from several counties that were deemed orange in the most recent School Alert System map update on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, are now categorized as gold in the new scale. These new designations are effective immediately.
As of today, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, a total of 23 counties are green, while 24 counties are yellow.
Five counties are now gold: Boone, Fayette, Logan, Mingo, and Putnam counties.
Two counties are now orange: Kanawha and Monroe counties.
One county is now red: Monongalia County.
Any county categorized as gold may, at the discretion of their local boards of education, return to in-person instruction today, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. Alternatively, these county boards of education can choose to wait and make decisions based on the next School Alert System map update this coming Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, at 5 p.m.
Counties that remain orange are still prohibited from conducting in-person instruction. Athletic and extracurricular activities are still limited to conditioning only.
Subsequent updates of the official School Alert System map will continue on a weekly basis at 5 p.m. each Saturday.
All schools, both public and private, are expected to adhere to the WVDE School Alert System map system to guide in-person instruction and extracurricular activities.
“If it takes additional measures to keep our people safe, we’re here to do them,” Gov. Justice said. “But, I strongly believe that what we needed to do was tweak our color-code system and add another bracket to be able to give a lot of our kids the opportunity to get back in school.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to be safe,” Gov. Justice continued. “But, as you go through life with a difficult problem, you’ve got to be willing to pivot and change and adapt, and make those changes for the betterment of all.”
In conjunction with the unveiling of the new color-coding system, Gov. Justice also announced Monday that he has signed an executive order, prohibiting travel sports teams from participating in practices, games, or other competitions within counties designated as gold, orange, or red in the County Alert System. This restriction does not apply to teams and leagues that play in defined, relatively small geographic areas, such as within a single county or a few counties in the state of West Virginia.
Additionally, the order decreases the social gathering limit for outdoor activity gatherings in gold, orange, or red counties from 25 people to 10 people.