The West Virginia government no longer is reporting school-related COVID-19 cases, despite the governor, the state health officer and the state Department of Health and Human Resources saying earlier that they would.
“I want the whole world to know, I want every single thing transparent at all times,” Gov. Jim Justice said Sept. 4, when he was still reporting cases at his tri-weekly briefings. “If there’s anyone out in the wilderness that has something that could be released, or whatever like that, there’s no hold up from my side, no hold up whatsoever.
“When the information comes to me I’ll surely announce it.”
State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said that same day that “we have announced the schools because we do think it’s a public health/safety concern, and parents, teachers and the public do need to know, so for the last two briefings we have been announcing them ... and we will be doing that.”
DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler wrote in a Sept. 8 email that her department would be “coordinating the reporting with the local health departments so they are housed in one central place.”
But all of that has been abandoned.
Justice hasn’t been reporting cases during his briefings, and spokesmen for the governor haven’t responded to questions about the halt.
On Monday, Adler wrote in an email that consistent data isn’t available.
“There is no uniform data collection of an individual’s occupation (i.e., student, nurse, engineer, etc.) on the lab forms completed by those tested for COVID-19,” she wrote.
She didn’t respond when asked why that couldn’t be added to the forms.
Adler wrote that the only school-related cases being reported to the department are those from “school outbreaks.” She defined that as at least two lab-confirmed cases among staff or students “with onsets within a 14-day period, who are epidemiologically linked to the school setting (e.g. same classroom, core group, bus, sports team, meeting, etc.).”
“This shows evidence of transmission rather than single cases that became infected in the community and just happen to work or attend the same school,” she wrote.
And even if cases meet that outbreak definition, the department still isn’t publicly reporting them.
Justice previously called even a single school-related case an “outbreak” — a much broader definition — and he reported them in his news briefings. Now, while he has continued to report cases in churches, prisons and assisted-living facilities, he hasn’t been reporting them in schools.
For instance, a least three staff members at Harrison County’s Nutter Fort Primary have the coronavirus. Its classrooms are closed until Oct. 5.
But Justice didn’t announce this at his Monday briefing. The cases are public because Harrison’s school system announced the outbreak Sunday, and news media such as WDTV reported on it.
Cases and outbreaks might remain hidden in counties with less transparent school systems and/or no local reporters to spread the word about them.
The West Virginia Department of Education also isn’t reporting the cases.
“The WVDE would not be the entity that reports the outbreak of disease,” department spokeswoman Christy Day wrote in an email. “This would be reported by the local health departments. Likewise, that information would not collectively be reported on statewide basis by the WVDE.”
Kanawha County’s school system has continued to publicly report its school-related cases, although it doesn’t reveal whether the cases are of students or employees.
It reported two more active cases Friday, one connected to Cedar Grove Elementary and another connected to its offices and warehouse in Crede. Since then, it reported a new case each connected to Pratt Elementary, Alban Elementary and DuPont Middle.
“All cases are included,” Kanawha’s spokeswoman Briana Warner wrote in an email, “including those that probably were contracted outside of schools or school-related activities.
“Our dashboard reflects confirmed positive cases as reported to us directly by the staff person or student/guardian, or by the [Kanawha-Charleston Health Department]. Yes, employees and parents are asked to report this, but the Health Department will also do so.”
Kanawha’s school system reported that it has 19 active cases — even though most students are barred from classrooms there.
The state school reopening map deems that Kanawha residents overall have too many new cases per day for in-person teaching to be safely offered. Some students receiving special education services are allowed into schools, while the rest are learning remotely.
The New York Times reported Monday that West Virginia is among 22 states that aren’t publishing information on cases in schools.
“More than a month after the first school districts [nationwide] welcomed students back for in-person instruction, it is nearly impossible to tally a precise figure of how many cases have been identified in schools,” the newspaper reported. “There is no federal effort to monitor coronavirus cases in schools, and reporting by school districts is uneven.”