When Gov. Jim Justice rolled out the state’s metrics for returning to school last week, why was the standard for each different level (green to yellow to orange to red) different from the model it was based on? Was it to make it easier for counties to hit their marks so schools could open? Justice said Monday he wanted to offer school districts “hope” and a goal to keep cases low.
Fortunately, Justice and his administration did make some changes to the system, announcing it would adhere more to the Harvard model from which it was based. The administration also decided to count staff at nursing facilities and jails as whole people, instead of the initial proposal of half. The new standard makes much more sense, because staff leave those facilities at the end of the day and interact in their local communities.
As for counting outbreaks at nursing homes and detention facilities as one case, Justice argues those populations don’t leave their setting, so they should only count as one, as it relates to the numbers that determine how schools operate. This is understandable, although it does raise some other issues.
Inmates at prisons might be a more stationary population, but those at regional jails are usually moved around in accordance with court appearances, making bail or being transferred to other facilities. Court systems are doing many things at a distance as they are able, but the recent shutdown of the Logan County court system shows there are vulnerabilities. It might be worth reconsidering whether outbreaks at correctional institutions should be categorized as single.
Nursing homes aren’t such a simple issue, either. Community spread in a nursing home starts because someone — a visitor or an employee — brings the virus in, not because it originates in the nursing home. These centers are again closed to visitors for now, which addresses part of the problem.
Of course, the spread in these facilities owes a lot to the underlying health issues and age of the residents. But as long as those who bring the bug in — right now, employees — are wholly counted as Gov. Justice says they will be, that should be accurate enough. Of course, that hinges on being able to find the source of the outbreak in a timely fashion.
There is a lot of uncertainty about how all of this is going to work — as there has been since the coronavirus pandemic first struck several months ago. Everyone from the governor to the county school district to the people in a community have to prepare as best they can to make this a success. Hopefully, it will be more trial than error, as mistakes with COVID-19 are costly in lives and long-term health.
If nothing else, it’s good to know the administration and public health officials heard the concerns of West Virginians around the state and adjusted to a more accurate system.