The ramifications of the Covid-19 numbers in Monongalia County have been out of whack ever since the state put the color-coded metric in place and WVU reopened for classes.
The number of positive cases shot up, primarily because of the spread among University students who ignored safety precautions by cramming into downtown bars and gathering for parties at fraternities that had disassociated from the school.
The rising numbers quickly pushed Monongalia County into the red. That prevented the public schools from opening and blocked any extracurricular activities, including football and other fall sports.
But now Governor Justice, local and state health officials and WVU have agreed on a revised metric. University students quarantined in WVU’s Arnold Apartments will be counted as a single case. That is the same metric used for nursing homes and jails.
The rationale is that the population is contained, dramatically reducing the risk of community spread. Each infected student who lives off-campus will still be counted individually.
Monongalia County Health Director Dr. Lee Smith said on Talkline Thursday that the change will more accurately reflect the virus risk for the entire county. Only a fraction of the Monongalia County cases exists in areas outside the University.
Meanwhile, local and state officials are re-emphasizing the importance of testing. Free community testing will take place today at the WVU Student Recreational Center on the Evansdale Campus.
More testing will accomplish two things:
First, it will lead to more detections of individuals, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, who have the virus. That will enable rapid contact tracing to reduce community spread.
Second, more testing will give an increasingly accurate picture of the extent of infection. If, as local health officials believe, there is very little infection outside of the University, then the infection rate will come down.
Previously, the statewide metric included only the number of cases per 100,000. The unintended consequence was a disincentive to test. But state officials this week added a positivity rate. Counties at three percent or less are green, four percent or less are yellow and counties at five percent or less are gold.
Counties can use either the number of infections or the positivity rate, whichever is better, to determine their category.
Monongalia County already appears to be headed in the right direction. It was at 38 cases per 100,000 a week ago, but as of yesterday the number had fallen to 23, pushing the county down into the orange.
The revised metric gives Monongalia County a legitimate opportunity to open schools and resume sports based on more relevant data.
Critics believe the changes are a result of political pressure from parents and student athletes. They no doubt had an impact. However, more importantly, the revised metric encourages people to get tested and will generate a more accurate picture of the Covid-19 risk in the county.