(The Center Square) – West Virginia has tweaked its color-coded formula used to reopen schools by incorporating percent positivity of coronavirus tests and adding a new column to ensure not every school previously classified as "orange" would have to switch to full remote learning.
During a news conference Tuesday, West Virginia COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh said the state is learning how to deal with the unprecedented pandemic in real time and trying to craft a system that facilitates safety and the well-being of West Virginians.
Marsh said the previous formula, which relied solely on new cases per capita, led to less testing because counties were worried more tests would lead to more positive cases, yielding harsher restrictions. To discourage counties from reducing testing, the new formula will allow a county to move into a greater stage of reopening by lowering its new coronavirus cases per capita or by reducing its percent positivity of tests.
Marsh said many people who are asymptomatic and presymptomatic can spread the coronavirus, and a model that reduces testing is counterproductive. He said the previous model incentivized less testing, while this model seeks to correct that.
The new model also added an additional column of classification. Previously, the model had four categorizations: counties in the green had the least restrictions, while restrictions got progressively harsher when counties entered yellow, orange and red. The new model incorporates a gold category in between yellow and orange that treats them more harshly than counties in the yellow and less harshly than counties in the orange.
“Just because we had a good plan doesn’t mean that we can’t make the plan better,” Gov. Jim Justice said during the news conference. “... If we can safely get some of those kids back in school, should we not try to do just that?”
Under the new formula, counties enter the green by having three or fewer cases per day per 100,000 people or a 3 percent or less positivity rate. Counties enter the yellow with 3.1 to 9.9 cases per day per 100,000 people or a percent positivity rate of 4 percent or less. A county enters the gold if it has between 10 and 14.9 cases per day per 100,000 people or a percent positivity rate less than 5 percent.
Counties in these three categories can have in-person instruction. Face-mask requirements and restrictions on group activities and assemblies become progressively stricter when the county reaches the yellow or gold categories.
Schools enter the orange category if the county has between 15 and 24.9 new positive cases per day per 100,000 people. Schools enter the red category if the county has more than than 25 new positive cases per day per 100,000 people. Schools in orange counties must halt all in-person instruction. Schools in red counties must halt all in-person instruction and all school-related activities.
The final decision was made in a meeting last night in which Justice met with health experts, members of his staff and officials from the West Virginia Department of Education.