Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that he believes the county school superintendents who declined his offer to test their football teams for COVID-19 made a bad decision that could lead to death.
Justice admitted that Kanawha, Logan and Fayette county superintendents were not included in the “thousands of phone calls and thousands of meetings” it took to come up with the plan for testing high school football teams, which began to develop Saturday afternoon. He said the plan came together quickly and there wasn’t time to consult “anybody and everybody.”
He compared himself to a police officer facing a mass shooting.
On Monday, Justice announced at his 12:30 p.m. briefing that the three — at the time — orange counties could test their football teams for COVID-19. If they were all negative, they could play. By the end of the day, all three county superintendents had declined the offer.
“Bad decision,” Justice said Wednesday. “We could have helped. We could have saved somebody’s life, without question.”
Justice said testing the players would have prevented them from spreading what they might have to someone else. He also said it would have helped those counties go down on the coronavirus color-code scale.
“It was misconstrued in so many ways. ‘What if we come up with false positives? It would ruin our whole season,’” Justice said. “We even have parents saying, ‘We should have a choice in this.’ You do. The choice is this: The county is orange. You are going to have to do something or not play.
“What else can we do? Go ahead and say go play? That wouldn’t be smart. We are trying to do the right thing. School, education — that’s what it’s all about.”
When asked why not find a way to test all high school football players in West Virginia, Justice said that, while he was always a proponent of more testing, he didn’t think that would be feasible because of the turnaround time for results and the need to do it weekly.
On Twitter, Chapmanville Regional High School head football coach James Barker said that, even if his players had been tested, they couldn’t play, regardless, beause of practice requirements.
“You didn’t give us that option when we were a red county to just practice,” Barker said in a series of tweets. “I would’ve GLADLY tested to practice on August 3rd. But that would’ve been a ‘reward’ for being responsible and doing the right thing in getting that [testing] done for a ‘red’ county. But testing right now didn’t help us from a practice standpoint and was actually a ‘punishment.’ I want all my players and their family to be healthy. But the color coded map has actually created a double edged sword and encourages people to NOT get tested to keep numbers down, which doesn’t show you trends or provide the data that is necessary to help control this virus.”
Teams in green and yellow counties are preparing for their first games of the season as spread of the virus has increased once more.
Justice reported that the state’s reproductive level is the third highest in the nation, although a model used by health officials shows West Virginia in fourth.
There were 135 new positive cases reported Wednesday, for a total of 10,642, with a daily positive percentage rate of 4.93%. Eight new deaths related to COVID-19 were reported: an 88-year-old woman from Kanawha County, an 83-year-old woman from Taylor County, an 84-year-old woman from Taylor County, a 72-year-old man from Ohio County, a 67-year-old woman from Logan County, a 67-year-old woman from Nicholas County, a 73-year-old woman from Harrison County and an 88-year-old man from Jackson County.
The Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported 211 active cases. Cabell County — as well as Putnam County — is nearing the orange phase of the coding system.