On Tuesday, the day West Virginia’s 2020-21 school year began, the state government said 20 people connected to schools among five counties recently had tested positive for COVID-19.
Atop that, Kanawha County, which is providing more information to the public about its cases than the state or other county governments, reported two additional cases after the state released its information.
Gov. Jim Justice announced the names of schools connected to the positive cases near the beginning of his Tuesday coronavirus news conference. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources later provided the number of cases connected to each.
The state didn’t specify whether the cases were among employees or students. School employees are generally required to report to work days before students arrive, to prepare for classes.
When asked for that information, a spokeswoman for the DHHR wrote in an email that “we will be discussing the reporting of cases with [state schools] Superintendent [Clayton] Burch as well as coordinating the reporting with the local health departments so they are housed in one central place.”
She said she thought the numbers represented active cases among just staff, but Kanawha’s information contradicted that.
The Kanawha school system’s spokeswoman said the county’s nine cases include staff, athletes and students in adult programs. Those students were in schools before the school year began Tuesday.
Kanawha’s active cases are two from Ben Franklin Career and Technical Center and one each from Cedar Grove Middle, Chamberlain Elementary, Horace Mann Middle, McKinley Middle, St. Albans High, Shoals Elementary and Sissonville High.
Kanawha, unlike the state government, also provided the dates it was notified of the positive results. The earliest results received were Aug. 30, for the Chamberlain and Shoals cases. The most recent results were received Tuesday, for the St. Albans and McKinley cases.
But even Kanawha, citing privacy concerns, declined to say how many of those infected related to each school were employees or students.
According to the state data, Mingo County has eight cases, all from Mingo Central High.
The state data doesn’t include cases from Mingo’s central schools office. The county superintendent has said he and others in the central office have tested positive.
Mason County has two, from Point Pleasant Primary.
Brooke County has one from Brooke Middle and one from Brooke Intermediate North.
Lincoln County has one, at the Duval PK-8 School.
For all of the information the state government still isn’t providing about school-related cases, it’s more than some of the superintendents of these counties previously provided. Mason’s superintendent wouldn’t tell the Gazette-Mail if the “health concerns” delaying that school’s start date to Sept. 17 were from COVID-19.
Lincoln Superintendent Jeff Kelley said his school system nurses spoke with the local health department, and then recommended to him releasing only the fact that the school system heard of a positive case Monday — not the name of the connected school or whether it was a staff member or student.
“What I put out there is exactly what they suggested to me,” he said.
Two of the five counties with cases — Kanawha and Mingo — are orange on the state’s school reopening map, meaning they were generally barred this week from providing in-person classes, and might be barred in the future based on their county’s overall COVID-19 cases.
The orange counties had to start Tuesday mostly with remote instruction, although Kanawha officials said an unclear number of special education students returned to classrooms because of an exemption provided by the state government for those children.