CHARLESTON — Governor Jim Justice concluded his daily press briefings for the week via YouTube Friday afternoon, providing continual updates on the state’s response efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justice said West Virginia’s personal income growth rate in the second quarter of 2020 reports second highest in the nation. While proud of the state’s work, the governor emphasized he is still working hard to help the unemployed through this difficult time.
The governor announced that with the West Virginia State Golf Tournament approaching, and golf being a low-contact sport, “orange” counties on Saturday’s map may participate in the tournament. The coaches and players must be tested before playing. He also made an exception for Logan County schools to resume athletic competition, after their board of education members decided not to hold in-person classes this week, despite being categorized as “gold.”
COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh explained the processes to compile the DHHR’s County Alert System map and the Department of Education’s School Alert System. In the beginning, the DHHR used the infection rate (the new cases on a daily basis over a 1 to 2-week period) but then changed to a metric system to match each county’s population. They then split the counties, giving smaller counties the chance to measure their rolling averages every 14 days, and bigger counties an opportunity to measure every seven days. This method seemed to decrease the number of tests being taken, so the governor added the percent positive rate. “One of the most important factors in controlling COVID spread is doing a lot of testing,” Marsh stated. The percent of positive tests for each county per day versus how many tests are given that day.
Dr. Marsh then explained that with this in mind, they analyzed the color-coding system. He explained that if the percent of positivity rate for counties, either on a seven-day average for populations over 16,000, or on a 14-day average for populations under 16,000, the map should be labeled as follows: Red for counties with a positivity rate of 8 percent or higher, Orange for those between 5-8 percent, Gold between 4-5 percent, Yellow between 3-4 percent, and Green for counties with less than 3 percent.
The COVID Czar shared that the only difference between the county alert and school alert map is the cut off. The school map ends on Thursday night, analyzed on Friday to double check numbers with local health departments, then reviewed Saturday by the Public Health Panel to see that all the numbers and rules are applied to be published that evening at 5 p.m. Finally, he reminded residents that the map posted Saturday is for the next school week, unless a county turns Red, to which the county responds immediately. Whichever number is better, between the infection rate and percent positive rate, is used for the county’s color.
Justice also reported that the Department of Education will now be posting a list of schools with outbreaks. He explained, “An outbreak is two or more cases at a school that are connected to each other.” The data may be delayed a day or two, due to communication between local and state departments. State Superintendent Clayton Burch elaborated that the outbreaks will be posted daily on the Department of Education website, and will even include if the outbreak led to remote learning, either for the entire school or a particular classroom. As of Friday evening, there were a total of eight school outbreaks in seven counties, including Grant, Marshall, Monongalia and Raleigh with one each, and Putnam and Kanawha with two.
Burch also reported that there are 450 school nurses serving across the state. He then proudly announced that with passing of House Bill 206, $24-30 million will be used to hire additional support staff for West Virginia schools. He explained that before the bill, West Virginia had enough money to hire only 186 employees, but now, 1,300 more can be hired.
Justice took time out of his briefing to pay his respects to Salem Fire Department Chief Rick Todd, who passed away from COVID this week. “This was a hero, as all of our responders are,” he said. “But not only a hero, but a leader, a leader of the heroes.”
The governor continued his regular announcements by mentioning outbreaks in 36 long-term care facilities and four active church-related outbreaks, as well as 13 active staff cases and four active inmate cases in correctional facilities throughout the state.
Justice announced that the CARES Act Small Business Funding has received 7,700 applications and distributed $21 million and continued to encourage all to apply for the last week, ending Wednesday, September 30. Justice announced that West Virginia received $10.3 million from the United States Economic Development Administration to revolve loans to small businesses who have been especially hurt during the pandemic. Justice encouraged those in need to contact the West Virginia Economic Development Authority.
Local officials were reminded to apply and reapply for the CARES Act grant funding, which has already awarded almost $120 million to 191 cities and counties, before the December 31 deadline. He reminded the residents of Jackson, Cabell, Taylor, Fayette, Logan, Monongalia, Wayne, Marion, Jefferson and Kanawha counties about the free COVID-19 mobile testing lanes available for the next week, pleading for all who can to get tested. He also encouraged everyone to get their flu shot vaccines, as flu season approaches.
Finally, Justice celebrated as West Virginia hit first place in filling out the 2020 United States Census. Residents have reported at 99.9 percent, in front of Idaho’s 99.8 percent and Hawaii’s 99.7 percent. There are still five days left to be counted, as the deadline is September 30. “Way to go West Virginia,” he said. “Great, great, great work!”
The state’s current statistics, as of Wednesday at 10 a.m. on the coronavirus.wv.gov dashboard: The County Alert map shows most counties in the “Green,” 10 counties in the “Yellow,” Summers, Logan, Mingo, and Wyoming counties in the “Gold,” with Kanawha, Fayette, Boone and Wayne in the “Orange,” and finally no counties in the “Red.” The WV Cumulative Percent of Tests Positive was at 2.79 percent. The Daily Percentage of Positive Cases rose to 3.53 percent. The state’s 10,968 recovered cases far exceed the number of active cases, at 3,655. Hospitalization continued to rise to 177 patients, but the state’s Fatality Rate still stands at just over 2.2 percent with 330 deaths attributed to COVID-19. West Virginia has now tested over 29.7 percent of the population, leading the nation’s average of 29.1 percent. West Virginia’s Rt value dropped to 1.03 percent, as tracked at https://rt.live/.