8-21-2020 - Gov. Jim Justice and state leaders announced changes today to how the spread of coronavirus is assessed in the state’s smallest counties and when masks will be required in classrooms.

The governor said counties under 16,000 in population will be assessed on a 14-day rolling average. Counties above that population will be assessed on a 7-day rolling average.

The change is meant to assure that a few cases don’t distort calculations for smaller-population counties.

“The governor asked us, what happens if you have smaller counties? Is that fair to them?” said Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus response coordinator.

Marsh continued, “What we suggested to him is we expand that time interval, so instead of 7 days we’ll do 14 days.”

That makes the second time officials have changed the color-coded map system meant to show the relative safety of having classrooms open in the counties around the state.

Earlier this week, leaders announced positive cases for workers at jails, prisons and nursing homes will be counted as one full case for calculations of community spread. Earlier, each had been counted as half because they spend some time in those restricted settings but also go out into their communities.

The second changed synced the map with the standards of a risk level map used by Harvard Global Health Institute.

Another change announced Friday further defined the standards for masks being required in classrooms.

At the lowest levels of community spread, depicted on the map by the color green, face coverings are required for grades 3 and above on buses and in areas where students mix and where social distancing cannot be maintained. Masks are not required in what the state is calling “core groups,” which means the classes they stick with.

At the next level up, yellow, face coverings are required for grades 6 and above at all times. For grades 3 to 5, masks are just required on buses and when students are mixing outside their “core groups.”

On orange, face coverings are required for grades 3 and above at all times.

Red still means in-person instruction has been halted.

Finally, the color-coded map system will be used to assess how community spread affects visitation at nursing homes too, said Bill Crouch, the secretary for the Department of Health and Human Resources.

“This map will be used for different purposes now, rather than just the school alert system,” Crouch said.

“We had been working previously on an alert system for nursing homes that would allow them a way to gauge community spread in their counties and their communities to guide them with regard to visitation.”

Senior living facilities have used a color-coded system for weeks to represent different levels of visitation or activities for residents. But the state had not defined a factor called “substantial community spread” that triggered the designations.

Right now, visitation is shut down to all West Virginia nursing homes because of 30-some outbreaks. An outbreak may be as few as one person at a facility, but the state takes them seriously because spread may occur quickly and residents are vulnerable.

“The number of outbreaks we have in the state has grown,” Crouch said.

Now, nursing homes may use the county maps with red representing the highest level of visitor and activities restriction, orange permitting some facility activities including communal dining, yellow permitting visitation and activities and green with the least restrictions.

“So they’re using this same color-coded system in different ways to make sure the community understands where they are in regard to risk,” Crouch said.