Gov. Jim Justice continued Wednesday to defend a much-tweaked version of the state’s COVID-19 risk maps, despite critics — including one of West Virginia’s main public school worker unions — who claim the standards are too watered down.
“Whether people like it or don’t like it about how we’ve modified and changed things, we did the right thing,” Justice said of the state version of the map, which as of Wednesday, put 48 of the state’s 55 counties in low-risk green or yellow categories.
On Tuesday, the West Virginia Education Association announced it plans to seek an injunction to reverse the multiple changes the state has made to the original Harvard Global Health Institute map, changes union leadership contend are creating a false sense of safety.
On Monday, Justice dismissed the Harvard Global map — put together by a consortium of leading scientists, epidemiologists and public health officials from across the country — as being “one size fits all” and stating, “I don’t know why in the world all of a sudden you think the Harvard map is a better map than what the experts right here in West Virginia are doing.”
On Wednesday, Justice said if West Virginia followed the Harvard Global parameters, “we’d have a third to half of our state shut down.”
“Just think how preposterous that would be in so many ways,” Justice added.
On the most recent Harvard Global map, three counties — including Kanawha — are in red, which signifies extremely high spread and calls for stay-at-home orders. Another 14 counties, including Cabell, Wayne, Putnam, Boone and Fayette, were orange, signifying accelerated spread and requiring halting certain activities.
On the Harvard Global map, only two counties — Lewis and Pocahontas — are green, signifying that spread of the virus is contained. On the West Virginia version, 35 counties are green.
The variations also mean at least five counties that are high-risk orange on the Harvard Global map — Cabell, Putnam, Mingo, Wyoming and Monongalia — and one county that is highest-risk red (Gilmer) show up as lowest-risk green on the West Virginia version of the map.
A major reason for the variation between the maps came last week when the state decided to count either the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population — the Harvard Global metric — or the county’s percentage of positive tests, whichever is lower, to determine each county’s color-coded risk level. That option requires a seven-day positive test rate of above 8% to reach the red category, as opposed to a rolling average of 25 new cases per day per 100,000 population on the Harvard Global metric. Currently, the statewide positivity rate is 3.29%.
Justice contends the change was made to encourage more residents to undergo COVID-19 testing, arguing many were reluctant to be tested under the Harvard Global metric, since more positive tests could raise a county’s risk rating.
Justice on Wednesday said he respects those parents who have “legitimate concerns” about West Virginia’s changes to the metrics, but said he has no patience for criticism of the state map that is politically motivated.
“In a lot of these situations, it’s politics, politics, politics, and it just always stinks,” he said.
Also during Wednesday’s state COVID-19 briefing:
- Justice said he had been unable to confirm reports that high school coaches and parents are having healthy players undergo multiple COVID-19 tests in order to artificially lower county positivity rates, but said it would be awful if it is true.
“I’m a coach, and coaches, honest to Pete, if you’re doing that, then you shouldn’t be a coach,” he said.
- Justice went off on a tirade when asked if the two sign language interpreters who normally participate in the live briefings were absent Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19, potentially exposing Justice and those staffers who produce the briefing broadcasts to the virus.
While not directly answering the question, Justice complained that disclosing the matter during the COVID-19 broadcast was an invasion of the women’s privacy, and went on to say steps had been taken to assure the safety of the Governor’s Office’s staff.
Earlier Wednesday, the governor’s press office did not respond to a request for information regarding the status of the sign language interpreters.