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Marsh, Dolan explain color-coded map impact on school, sports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Coronavirus Czar Doctor Clay Marsh says he considers orange as the key color in the state’s new school alert system color-coded map.

Clay Marsh

“When you turn orange it’s a really time when the community should really start to double down on the mitigation efforts where you bring in all the public health people and make recommendations about what specific mitigation strategies should be done,” Marsh said Tuesday during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Orange is one step away from red which halts in-person learning at schools and extra-curricular activities. The coding is determined by the 7-day average of new cases in a county per 100,000 residents. Green represents the counties with the lowest average while red is the highest. Yellow and orange are in the middle.

“This color-coding system really focuses on trying to control the spread of COVID in community and that is the key to our success in all parts of what we are trying to accomplish,” Marsh said.

Unlike the similar Harvard model, West Virginia’s system doesn’t not include the full number of positive cases in congregate settings like nursing homes and jails. Marsh said cases involving nursing home residents and prison inmates aren’t likely to impact schools like community spread does.

The map is being updated each day by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. If a county goes red, which is 25 or more cases per 100,000 population, in-person instruction in schools will automatically go to remote learning and extra-curricular acclivities will be halted. An orange coding, 10-24.9 average cases, allows for sports practices to continue but no games will be allowed.

“We felt like practice was important,” West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission Executive Director Bernie Dolan said Tuesday on “Talkline.” “You don’t want to not practice for a couple of weeks and then come back out.”

Bernie Dolan

The schedule for extra-curricular activities for the entire next week will be determined by what a county’s color code is on Saturday nights. For example ,if a county is yellow on Saturday but cases increase and it moves to orange some time during the next week, all activities will still be allowed to take place that week. No practices or games are allowed if a county is coded red no matter when during the week the county moves into red.

“The idea is that Saturday night measure will affect your ability to play or not play for a week unless you went into red,” Marsh said.

Dolan said he expects high school athletic directors to reschedule games during the season if their opponent ends up in the red or orange category the Saturday before they were originally scheduled to play them.

Dolan said he feels high school sports have already cleared a lot of hurdles–including the summer vacation hurdle—now the opportunity to play those sports can be a catalyst to improve the COVID-19 numbers in their communities.

“You’re back in your community unit and it’s up to them to decide if we can get this under control and keep it under control so we can have high school sports and go to school,” Dolan said.

Marsh said the map includes an internal feedback loop for communities.

“It an incentive program to improve your color, an internal incentive driver,” he said.

Tuesday’s school alert map continued to have Logan County as the only county in the red category. Boone, Lincoln and Mingo counties are in the orange category. While Taylor County, in the orange category Monday, improved to yellow on Tuesday. Fayette, Jefferson, and Mineral counties have changed from green to yellow. There are 22 counties in the yellow category. The most counties 29, are in the lowest category, green.

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