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Justice to discuss possible changes to virus map that determines school status

With a crowd of upset students, parents and coaches protesting outside the Capitol, Gov. Jim Justice said he’s considering more changes to how the state’s coronavirus guidance affects public schools and sports.

Justice said he would be meeting with close advisers at 5 p.m. and, following that, would let people know if there are any changes.

“I am trying to make the very best decisions for all or you in West Virginia. I am also praying constantly that my decisions are the right decisions,” Justice said during a Monday briefing.

Later, Justice announced he would be describing any adjustments during an 11 a.m. briefing today. The livestream is embedded below.

Ben Salango (File)

Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, the Democratic nominee for governor, planned his own briefing at 9:30 a.m. today to “detail his plan to clean up the mess.”

Salango’s event was likely to stream on the candidate’s Facebook page.

Salango described Justice as slow-moving with earlier moves, including a mask mandate, and unsteady about other decisions, such as opening schools.

“The current uncertainty and chaos is a direct result of Jim Justice’s failed leadership,” Salango stated.

“The truth is, if the governor had shown real leadership early in the pandemic and taken decisive proactive measures, our kids would be back in school and on the fields today.”

Justice on Monday said his decisions would not be swayed by protesters or “anyone from D.C.” Nevertheless, there were hundreds of protesters to greet the governor as he walked into today’s briefing about West Virginia’s coronavirus response.

MORE: Those at ‘Let Them Play’ rally hope they’ve gotten governor’s attention

Discontent has grown as some West Virginia school systems — Kanawha and Monongalia as the largest — have not been able to start the school year because of their levels of confirmed coronavirus cases. That has also meant halting sports seasons, including football.

A few weeks ago, Justice introduced a color-coded map to depict virus levels in West Virginia counties.

Monongalia has been red, the highest level. Several other counties, including Kanawha, have been orange.

The colors are determined by daily positive tests adjusted for 100,000 population. Small counties are on a 14-day rolling average while bigger counties are on a 7-day rolling average.

Orange is a fairly broad category: 10 to 24.9 cases.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Justice said Monday.

He then raised the possibility of adding yet another color, gold, between yellow and orange.

“I would allow us to go back to school in the gold, and I would allow our teams to play in the gold,” he said.

The governor also described ideas for dealing with how positive virus cases among West Virginia University students have affected Monongalia County.

So he suggested the possibility of putting WVU students with positive covid diagnosis into one area and then counting them as one group. That is the way residents of nursing homes and inmates in the corrections system have been counted — as one unit for the purposes of the county health map.

There are some complications with that idea.

Students with positive tests who live in residence halls are moved to Arnold Apartments to recover in isolation. But there are also students with other living situations, such as their own apartments or fraternity or sorority houses. And still more students with unconfirmed cases have been asked to quarantine.

Dr. Clay Marsh

“So as you point out, it’s a more complex issue than just having one particular model only,” said coronavirus response coordinator Clay Marsh, who is also a WVU vice president, when asked about the various scenarios.

Justice said he and his advisers would huddle at 5 p.m. about possibilities. He acknowledged that it’s possible there would be no changes at all, but he hoped there would be.

Those gathering, he said, would include Marsh, DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch,  State Health Offider Ayne Amjad, Adjutant General James Hoyer, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, Bernie Dolan of the Secondary School Activities Commission and some additional members of the governor’s staff.

When asked if members of the public might be getting fatigued by changes to the map, Justice said tweaks are necessary.

Considering the complications of the pandemic, he said, “The amount of tweaking that’s been done is almost nothing.”

The incumbent governor said these decisions are difficult.

“Whether you buy it or don’t buy it the nights are tough; and the sleep is not much,” Justice said. “I can tell you this is really serious stuff.”

Justice added, “It’s an honor to be your governor but it weighs on anybody, and it weighs on me too.”

The governor later said, “With all the sleepless nights, with all the staring at the walls, with all the tweaking that’s been done, we should do what the people that were able to land astronauts on the moon did — they tweaked and they tweaked and they tweaked until they got it right.”

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