Marshall University President Dr. Jerome Gilbert said he slept well Sunday night, even though the following morning was the first day of classes for the fall semester.
Gilbert’s serenity during an historic and life-threatening pandemic is based on his belief that his school has done everything possible to try to keep students, faculty, and staff safe.
“There’s a sense of calm on campus,” Gilbert told me Monday morning after he walked the school grounds and stopped in a couple of classes. “It just really gave me a sense of calm as well, and the assurance that we have done everything we can, and it appears to be working.”
Marshall is joined by the rest of the state’s public and private colleges and universities in reopening. Their schedules are modified, and many classes will be taught remotely, but they are making a legitimate attempt to adapt to the new normal.
Public and private K-12 will begin in a couple of weeks. Administrators, teachers, and staff are trying to make ready for thousands of students to report to the classroom, while also attempting to educate children whose parents have opted for remote instruction.
I doubt everyone is as serene at President Gilbert. However, it is important to note that West Virginia has been headed in the right direction, according to the statistics on the DHHR website as of yesterday.
—West Virginia had tested over 22 percent of its population. That is slightly higher than the national average (21.6 percent) and greater than any of our surrounding states.
—The positive test rate was only 2.3 percent, compared with the national average of nearly eight percent, and well below all surrounding states.
—The Rt (spread rate) was at .85 percent, the fourth lowest in the country. Just a few weeks ago West Virginia had one of the highest spread rates.
—Under the state’s new county alert system, only Logan County was in the red. Monroe County was orange, primarily because of an outbreak in a nursing home. Sixteen counties were yellow and the remaining 37 counties were green, meaning they had a minimal number of cases.
These and other figures show that the spread of the virus here has slowed after a midsummer spike. Governor Justice’s indoor face covering requirement, improved attention to social distancing, closing the bars in Morgantown and rapid response by health officials to outbreaks have all contributed to tamping down the spread.
However, we are entering a much more challenging phase. Reopening the schools, even with revised schedules, myriad safety precautions and remote learning, means there will inevitably be the kind of congregations where the virus is more likely to spread.
We are not out of the woods yet. In fact, we are just heading into them.