State officials admitted Tuesday that the color-coding system developed for West Virginia schools led to decreased testing for COVID-19, prompting the government to “tweak” the system.
After teasing to it Monday, Gov. Jim Justice announced a fifth color to the color-coded county map that dictates what school looks like.
The new color phase is gold, and it will fall between yellow and orange. Counties with a seven-day average between 10 and 14.9 will go gold and will be permitted to attend face-to-face schooling. Masks will be required at all times and large assemblies are not permitted. Schools also will be asked to limit the movement of groups of students.
As for athletics, counties in gold will be permitted to play only within the county or in other gold counties. Immediate families will be permitted to attend only games in gold, but the state adjusted yellow and green to allow grandparents to attend.
If, by 5 p.m. Saturday, a county is still orange, the state will then look at the county’s positive percentage rate over a seven-day rolling period. If the percentage is below 5%, counties in orange may still attend school.
“This now becomes either/or,” Justice said.
With the changes, now Putnam, Logan, Mingo, Boone and Fayette counties are gold.
“The No. 1 thing for me is this puts more students in front of their teachers, and that’s what is most important for me,” state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said.
Justice said the tweaks to the system were needed because the orange phase was too broad and it wasn’t fair to the counties that were on the edge of yellow.
West Virginia University’s Dr. Clay Marsh, the governor’s coronavirus czar, said officials found that the color system was actually discouraging people to get tested because they were afraid of affecting their county’s color.
“Every time we get a new case, you get a little bit worse on the color-coded map,” Marsh said.
He said he hopes the new color, along with the tool of using the daily percentage rate, will encourage people to get tested, which will make communities safer.
Justice said the West Virginia National Guard has been instructed to ramp up testing, beginning in the only red county: Monongalia. The governor said he wants to test residents quickly and without any cost to them.
“Absolutely, please, take advantage of the free testing,” Justice said. “It will help give us information and help your county. It will make us safer.”
There were 156 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday and five new deaths: an 87-year-old man from Logan County; a 93-year-old woman from Mason County; a 66-year-old woman from Mercer County; an 88-year-old woman from Kanawha County; and a 91-year-old woman from Kanawha County. The deaths bring the total fatalities to 280.