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Let Them Play Protest

Gov. Jim Justice gets out of his vehicle at the Capitol and is greeted by jeers from protesters who want high school sports to start again. The governor did not speak to the crowd.

As West Virginia enters week two of the 2020-21 school year, Gov. Jim Justice on Monday met with his team of advisers to discuss more changes to the map that guides what school looks like.

Justice and his team met at 5 p.m. Monday. At his afternoon coronavirus news briefing, Justice said he wanted to discuss possible changes to the color-code system, how to help counties with colleges that affect the ratio and to further discuss sports.

Justice said he believes the parameters of the orange phase (10 to 24.9 cases per 100,000) of the system are too broad and unfair. Instead, he would like to add a new phase — maybe gold — which would go in between yellow and orange.

“Maybe the difference is gold is smaller, maybe only 10-13,” Justice said. “What I am so saddened with [is] you have counties that have not even had the opportunity to start back to school. We need to try, with all in us, to do something about that. We could allow you to go to school in gold and play sports in gold. You could play any other county in gold or play within the county.”

Take Putnam County, for example. On Thursday, which is the weekly cutoff for the Department of Education’s map, Putnam County had only 11.89 cases per 100,000, according to the Department of Health and Human Resources map. That puts them on the cusp of being yellow, but still pretty far from going red, and Justice said he doesn’t think that’s fair.

The governor said he also wanted to revisit testing student-athletes. Before the season started, Justice offered the few counties in orange at the time the chance to test their football teams. If they were all negative, they could play, despite being in orange. All three counties declined the offer, and Justice said he didn’t think it feasible to mandate the testing of all high school football players.

The governor also said he wants to look into ways they could better isolate college campuses so college students don’t count toward the average in a county.

Justice could not give a clear answer as to when changes, if any, would be announced.

The possible “tweaks” to the school system come after parents and guardians navigated the second weekend monitoring the color-coded system.

In Cabell County, families who monitor the DHHR map woke up Saturday morning to the county changing from yellow to orange. This caused some alarm, as families tried to figure out if this meant Cabell County Schools had to move to virtual learning.

West Virginia University’s Dr. Clay Marsh, Justice’s coronavirus czar, said discrepancies happen between the two maps because the Department of Education cuts off Thursday evening. This provides the COVID-19 Data Review Panel time to verify the numbers, check whether cases are from the congregate setting or community, ensure their are no duplicates and allocate cases to appropriate counties.

The review process changed Calhoun County from orange to yellow this past weekend.

The school map is updated at 5 p.m. every Saturday.

There were 121 new positive cases reported Monday, and nine new COVID-19-related deaths: a 91-year-old woman from Cabell County; an 84-year-old woman from Kanawha County; a 78-year-old man from Grant County; a 66-year-old man from Harrison County; an 86-year-old man from Harrison County; a 76-year-old man from Harrison County; a 75-year-old woman from Kanawha County; a 71-year-old woman from Kanawha County; and an 83-year-old woman from Kanawha County. The deaths brought the state’s total fatalities to 275.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.