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Governor offers virus testing as a way to un-cancel games, but all three affected counties say no thanks

Gov. Jim Justice offered teams with games canceled because of coronavirus spread a chance to play if everyone got a negative test. But three counties said thanks but no thanks almost immediately.

Kanawha County Schools  decided not to participate in testing student athletes, band members or dance team members this week for the one-time option to play or perform, according to a news release.

Kanawha schools plan to continue with practices in hopes that the overall COVID-19 numbers go down so student athletes and others have a better chance of participating for an entire season. The hope is to reschedule games from week one later in the season.

Tom Williams

“We thank state officials for this option for our students, but we’ve collectively decided that our focus should be on making sure that we do everything in our power to get our students back to school,” stated Kanawha County schools Superintendent Tom Williams.

Earlier this afternoon, Justice said high school teams that faced cancellation of games may still play this week if everyone on the team is cleared via coronavirus testing.

Others were making similar decisions.

Logan County Superintendent Patricia Lucas, in collaboration with high school principals also chose to opt out of testing for student athletes and extracurricular activities, stated Darlene Dingess-Adkins, the county’s assistant superintendent.

Fayette County Superintendent Gary Hough said schools there will not be participating in the testing option either. He said the decision was made during a Zoom meeting with all coaches and principals participating.

“When a roll call was asked what they preferred to do, each one of the coaches made a choice not to test this week. A lot just felt it wasn’t going to be helpful to them,” Hough said on the telephone, adding that some opponents had already made other scheduling arrangements.

Opting into the offer would have been complicated on short notice, he said: “To get all the protocols where they had to have all the provisions done and done very quickly and worrying about when the tests would come back, a multitude of things.”

Midland Trail head football coach Frank Isaacs said his team in Fayette County would not participate in the covid testing this week.

“We opted out,” Isaacs told reporter Joe Brocato of MetroNews. “If you get a positive test you could be out for two to three weeks with a 14-day quarantine. We felt like it was in our best interest to go ahead and take the hit and not play this week and have the opportunity to play the following week.”

Isaacs said the issue came up very quickly today and resulted in a Zoom meeting with coaches and county officials.

“It happened so quick,” Isaacs said. “With the administration, I decided it was best for us not to take part.”

MORE: Counties opt out of covid testing plan

The governor’s announcement came just after he was confronted by a chanting crowd of athletes and parents at the Capitol. But Justice, in offering a one-week reprieve, said he was not bowing to pressure.

“Absolutely, I am not going to compromise, regardless of the pressure,” he said. “I am not going to compromise in any way the well-being of our children, the well-being of our counties, the well-being of our cities. I’m not going to do that.”

Families and athletes rallied at the Capitol today over a color-coded map showing the spread of coronavirus in communities. The Saturday night debut showed Kanawha, Fayette and Logan counties on orange and Monroe County on red, signaling their games would be canceled this week.

Governor Justice

“From the standpoint of the counties in orange, we have really, really worked all weekend to try to find a way to message those counties that are in orange to motivate and do all we could to motivate them and get them moving before school starts down into the y or green,” Justice said during his regular coronavirus response briefing.

Justice offered a one-week reprieve by saying athletes, band members and cheerleaders in those counties on orange would be tested. If no one on the team tests positive, he said, this week’s games could go on. But positive tests would signal cancellations after all.

“If one person tests (positive), we’re going to have to step back and absolutely we’re going to have to then reevaluate everything,” Justice said.

The governor said that applies to this week only and is meant to provide more information about the spread of coronavirus in those counties prior to the first week of in-classroom instruction, which starts next Tuesday.

After this, he said, counties on orange should not expect the same deal.

One kink in even instituting that plan this week is that some schools that anticipated games being canceled with teams in orange districts have already rescheduled.

Justice indicated testing would start right away, with the state communicating to superintendents, who would loop in principals, who would update coaches, who would tell athletes.

Although there have been lags on testing results affecting other areas of society, state officials today seemed to indicate the results could be turned around quickly. DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch made reference to three new labs coming on line to process results.

“We’ve scrambled all the resources we can possibly scramble,” Justice said.

The governor made his announcement during a briefing scheduled for 12:30 p.m. The rally of parents and athletes started about 10:30, with participants standing where the governor usually drives up to the Capitol.

A little before 11 a.m., Justice first drove up and twice exited his vehicle to speak to the crowd. The governor asked people to just give him a little more time and suggested they would like the result.

Then, as Justice went into the Governor’s Mansion to be briefed by staff and advisors, the crowd continued with chants and speeches over a portable sound system.

One of the main speakers was Tracy White, mother of a South Charleston student. White is a Kanawha County school board member, but said she was not acting in that capacity. Last week, White was central in a push to reverse a decision to allow marching bands to perform at football games.

The lesson, she said, was “Once the bands came together and got loud, the band guidelines changed almost immediately.”

In this case, she said, people who were protesting believed the color-coded guidelines were inconsistent. The gap between yellow and orange is quite narrow considering the consequences, White said.

“There’s other actions, and it seems like we’re just reactive,” she said.

Many, White said, had written or called the Governor’s Office but heard nothing back.

“We submit emails and don’t get responses,” she said. “I know he gets thousands upon thousands a day, but we have sent emails, yes.”

Another speaker, Erin Sargent of Chapmanville, said her son has not been able to start practicing football. Logan County has been on red or orange, indicating heightened spread of coronavirus, for the past several weeks.

“It should be a choice of the parents and coaches,” Sargent said in a steady rain. “I understand schools — it’s mandated they need to be in school, and I understand why they’re not starting right now and a lot of them are doing virtual. Because of the enclosed spaces they’re not able to social distance.

“But with sporting events, it’s a choice. It should be up to the parents and the coaching staff, whether they’re willing to coach these boys.”

Sargent, as the rally went on, said she is not confident there will be a football season.

“No, not really. I don’t,” she said.

Chloe Sovine, a Herbert Hoover High School freshman, wants to play on the golf team. She regrets that last spring’s classes were canceled.

And her earlier years in school were also disrupted by flooding in her community.

With sports in Kanawha County canceled for this week, she’ll miss out on a girls’ golf tournament. “We have tournaments, but there’s not many just for girls,” she said.

“Every team we’ve played, everybody’s wearing masks,” she said. “Everybody’s being responsible. We have stayed six feet apart when we weren’t wearing masks. We have all followed the guidelines.”

The freshman said of the governor, “I just want him to get something fixed today because I want to enjoy my state tournament, and I don’t feel it should be called a state tournament if not all are invited.”

As the rally continued, Justice continued discussing the options inside the Governor’s Mansion with his advisors. Around 12:30, he got in his vehicle, drove past the rally-goers, exited the vehicle again and walked through the Capitol doors, into the briefing to make his announcement.

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