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COVID-19 outbreaks in Kanawha County schools are pushing county health leaders to switch up their vaccination strategy in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus.

As of Friday, there were outbreaks reported across seven schools in the county, with 41 students and three staffers infected. These are the most active outbreaks in schools at one time since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a news release from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

“While things continue to open up, we need to be very diligent in wearing our masks, keeping social distance and frequently washing our hands,” said Dr. Sherri Young, health officer at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. “If we’re not careful with travel and following COVID-19 guidelines, we could easily see another wave of this pandemic. It’s critical that those who can be vaccinated receive their COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them.”

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, in partnership with the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority and other community health groups, will hold vaccination events starting Tuesday at all eight county high schools to target students older than 16-years-old, according to the KCHD release.

There will also be clinics held at Charleston Catholic High School and the University of Charleston, according to a release.

Lori Kersey, public information officer for the health department, said “strike teams” will be utilized on Tuesday for each of the county’s high school.

“We’re changing our strategy to vaccinate in the groups where we’re continuing to see COVID-19 spread,” Young said in the news release. “Unfortunately, we continue to see high numbers of cases and outbreaks in our schools, mostly related to sports, so that’s one of the places we want to focus.”

Statewide, there are at least 44 current COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, according to the state Department of Education, though reporting often lags behind that of local health departments.

In Marion County, despite no outbreaks currently being listed on the Department of Education’s website, school officials announced Monday that students at East Fairmont High School would be transitioning to remote learning until April 6 due to COVID-19.

Vaccination rates statewide — and in Kanawha — are lowest among individuals ages 16-24, according to the state, with only 49 people per 100,000 having received a dose.

In Kanawha, officials said the drive to vaccinate students will not take away from efforts to vaccinate older West Virginians (over 65), who are most at-risk for suffering the worst symptoms of COVID-19.

The county will also still focus on distributing vaccines to minorities, which are lagging compared to vaccination rates among white residents. Kanawha will hold clinics this week at the Roosevelt Community Center targeted at vaccinated Black residents.

These vaccination efforts come as Kanawha County mourns its 300th COVID-19 related death.

“It’s not about a benchmark, it’s about them and their families,” said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper in a news release. “They, unfortunately in many cases, did not have the opportunity to receive the life-saving vaccine which is now available. Lest, we never forget them.”

As of Monday, there were 140,991 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in West Virginia, 6,252 of which are active, and 2,638 COVID-19 related deaths, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Reach Caity Coyne at caity.coyne, 304-348-7939

or follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.

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