State Officials Announce Additional Criteria For School Re-entry Metrics
CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and state health and education officials detailed Friday additional tweaks to the metrics behind the color-coded map that determines if schools can re-open while also increasing COVID-19 testing opportunities to bring infection numbers down.
The daily County Alert System map updated by the Department of Health and Human Resources at coronavirus.wv.gov and the weekly map updated by health officials every Saturday at 5 p.m. on the Department of Education’s website now use both incidence rates and positivity rates to determine whether counties can open their doors for in-person schooling.
As a result, most counties are in the green, which is based on either a seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in counties with populations greater than 16,000, a 14-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 people in counties with populations less than 16,000, or the county’s rate of positivity.
Green counties have less than three cases of infection per 100,000 people or a positivity rate less than 3 percent. Yellow counties have between 31 and 9.9 cases per 100,000 or a positivity rate less than 4 percent. Gold counties have between 10 and 14.9 cases per 100,000 people or a positivity rate less than 5 percent.
Green, yellow, and gold counties can re-open, though restrictions on social distancing and mask-wearing requirement increase starting at yellow and gold, and limitations on sports and extracurricular activities.
Positivity rate metrics have now been added for orange and red counties. Orange counties have between 15 and 24.9 cases per 100,000 or a positivity rate less than 8 percent. Red counties have 25 or more cases per 100,000 or a positivity rate of 8 percent or more. Both orange and red counties have to shut down for in-person learning. Sports and extracurricular activities in Orange counties are limited to conditioning, while all sports and extracurricular activities in red counties must stop.
“Whether it is the infection rate or the percent positive rate, whichever of those two metrics is better will be the metric that is applied for the color code of the county,” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar.
Marsh said while the DHHR County Alert System map is always updated every day, the data used for the Saturday Department of Education version of the County Alert System map is cut off every Thursday night.
DHHR is using Fridays to check data with local health departments to differentiate between congregant and community spread, removing duplicate data, correctly identifying the places of origin for those infected, and removing recovered people from the data. On Saturday mornings, a Public Health Panel consisting of epidemiologists and public health officials with West Virginia University looks at the data again to make sure it is being applied correctly to counties and makes determinations on colors.
The next update of the weekly County Alert System map is Saturday at 5 p.m. at wvde.us.
“It is actually really important we allow that process to happen the way it is done,” said State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch. “That one map that gets posted on Saturday is indeed a map that has been scrutinized and scrubbed. It is a map we can trust to be the best health map we’ll put up to make those decisions.”
Marsh said he hopes the updated metrics will encourage people to get tested in order to bring down the positivity rates in counties so they can re-open. DHHR reported 6,426 COVID-19 test results Thursday and 215 positive cases, bring the state’s daily percent of positive cases to 3.35 percent and the cumulative percent of positive cases to 2.74 percent. The state’s Rt value – which measures how fast the virus is spreading – was 1.03 Friday and coming down, showing that virus growth is slowing.
“I think by doing this we’re really starting to see benefits with the testing picking up,” Marsh said. “We’re starting to see some of the infection rates go down, which is really important and exciting.”
Burch also said the Department of Education website will start posting school infection data, with outbreaks defined as two or more students and/or staff that become infected within the school. Burch said the date will come from county superintendents, so the data might be a day or two behind.
“We will everyday get a list from … DHHR to be able to post the outbreaks reported, the schools, the number of cases, and we’re even going to post if that outbreak led to the school going to remote learning,” Burch said. “We’re going to continue to work with DHHR, the Governor’s Office, and our county superintendents to also begin looking how we can track and post ongoing cases.”