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West Virginia Ramps Up COVID-19 Testing in Hot Spots

CHARLESTON — To encourage more West Virginia residents to get tested for the novel coronavirus and reduce positivity rates in counties, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday multiple testing opportunities in gold, orange and red counties.

“Any county that is in orange, red or gold, we really need to put a real push there,” Justice said.

Free drive-up COVID-19 testing is available in Ohio County from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at the Highlands Power Center lower parking lot in Triadelphia and noon-6 p.m. Sept. 26 at Riverfront Park in Jackson County. Testing was ongoing Friday in Harrison, Monongalia, and Putnam counties.

“We’re going to continue to test, and we’re going to continue to test more and more,” Justice said. “If we’re not in your county and we’re in the neighboring county and you want to go to that county and get tested and everything, that’s fine too.”

According to the County Alert System color-coded map updated by the Department of Health and Human Resources, both Ohio and Jackson counties are in the gold category, meaning they have between 10 and 14.9 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people based on a seven-day rolling average of cases for counties with populations above 16,000 residents.

Jackson was just barely in the gold with 10.5 cases per 100,000 people, while Ohio County trending down to 12.76 cases per 100,000 people. If Ohio and Jackson counties remain in the gold category by 5 p.m. Saturday, they will be allowed to open for in-person school with limits on assemblies and mask requirements. They’ll also be allowed to have sports and extracurricular activities but can only play other schools within the county or other gold counties with attendance limited to parents and guardians of students.

Other gold counties as of Friday included Pocahontas, Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Logan, and Wyoming counties. Boone and Monongalia counties were orange, meaning they had between 15 and 24.9 cases per 100,000 people based on a seven-day rolling average of cases with counties with more than 16,000 residents and a 14-day average of cases in counties with less than 16,000 residents. Orange counties are prohibited from opening for in-person school, and athletic practices are limited to conditioning only.

Morgantown was only downgraded to orange from red after a plan was released Wednesday allowing students isolated in Arnold Apartments on West Virginia University’s Morgantown Campus due to likely infection by the coronavirus to count as one outbreak in the school re-entry metrics similar to how outbreaks among residents in long-term care facilities and inmates in state correctional facilities and regional jails are counted.

Five counties are in the red, having more than 25 cases per 100,000 people: Kanawha, Putnam, Fayette, and Mingo counties. Red counties are prohibited from opening schools for in-person learning and cannot hold sporting events or extracurricular activities.

The metrics were changed Tuesday to allow for positivity rates to be included when determining the color codes for counties. Green counties have a positivity rate of less than 3 percent, yellow counties have a positivity rate of less than 4 percent, and gold counties have a positivity rate of less than 5 percent.

State officials pointed out that testing results have decreased due to fewer people getting tested out of concern of putting a county into the orange or red categories. Instead, the lack of test results was causing the seven and 14-day rolling averages to get worse, not better. According to DHHR data, test numbers have been down for three weeks straight.

Justice encouraged everyone to take advantage of the free testing opportunities in order to provide state health officials more data, to identify asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases before they can spread the virus, and to improve the school re-entry metrics so that schools can get out of the orange and red and re-open.

“We’re able to have more and more knowledge, we’re able to find situations that we did not know existed and those people are spreaders, we’re able to help them and get them well and stop them from spreading,” Justice said. “That system of testing and testing more and more and more will be a winner for all of us, so we encourage you in every way. Take advantage, West Virginia. You’ve got to make the decision.”

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