Helped by pivot to percentages, most of West Virginia covid map goes green

Changes to West Virginia’s map depicting coronavirus spread have made it dominated by green, which is the lowest rate.

“This looks one whale of a lot better to me,” Gov. Jim Justice said today as he held up a copy of the map during a briefing.

Thirty-eight of West Virginia’s 55 counties were green today.

That’s because the map had been updated to take into account whichever statistic is better: daily positive tests or percent positive. Earlier versions of the map only reflected the daily cases.

The option of assessing counties by using a percentage was announced earlier but this was the first day the map reflected the change.

Justice also has been pushing for more testing, which he has said could bring down the percent positive in the state’s hardest-hit counties. State officials said they’re starting to see that pay off.

“Right now, thank goodness, we don’t have a red county,” Justice said. “We’re gonna hope and pray we’re just going to keep on adding more yellow and adding a little bit of orange and then before you know it we’re going to be green.”

West Virginia’s map was originally based off of one by the Harvard Global Health Institute, but has been altered to assess the percent positive and for different cutoff points.

So, in contrast, the Harvard map today showed just four green counties in West Virginia: McDowell, Webster, Lewis and Tyler.

Much of the Harvard map was a step up, yellow.

Dr. Clay Marsh

Clay Marsh, the state’s coronavirus response coordinator, said that when West Virginia’s map was assessed only by a rolling average of daily positive cases residents concluded that the only way to improve county designations was to avoid being tested. That way, they concluded, they wouldn’t drive up the daily positives.

“Then we came up with a second way to assess each county, the percent positive rate,” Marsh said.

He noted that counties may now be assessed by whichever statistic is better — the daily positives or the percent positive.

“Whichever metric, whether it’s the infection rate or the percent positive rate — whichever of those two metrics is better — will be the metric that’s applied for the color code of the county,” Marsh said.

So under the percent positive assessment, a county of more than 8 percent is red, the highest level that would immediately halt in-person school and athletics.

Counties at 5 to 8 percent are orange, which still means staying out of classrooms.

Between 4 and 5 percent is gold, a recently-created color designation that allows for classroom learning with heightened precautions and games against other gold counties.

Yellow, which allows classroom instruction and sports, is 3 to 4 percent.

And green is 3 percent or less.

The governor pointed to Monongalia and Putnam counties, which had been red but now were shown as yellow.

Monongalia’s daily rate today was 17.86, which would have been orange on the earlier map. But its latest percentage was 3.88, good enough for yellow.

Putnam’s daily rate positives rate was 16.45, which also would have been orange. But its percent positive was 3.9, yellow, which could bring classroom instruction and sports.

State officials also expressed continued caution about dealing with the pandemic.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer

Adjutant General James Hoyer noted that it took West Virginia 110 days to reach 100 covid-19 deaths, 41 days to reach 200, 22 days to reach 300, and the state is now on pace to reach 400 in less than 22 days.

“Wear your mask. Social distance. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Go out and get tested. You may be one of those spreaders and don’t even know it,” Hoyer said.

Asked about whether West Virginia’s public health map can be used by state residents to realistically assess the safety of everyday activities such as dining out, going to church, walking around a car show or going to a wedding, state officials described it as helpful.

Justice said that if he lived in a county depicted as red, he would be very concerned for his family participating in activities outside the home.

“This map is a great, great tool to guide you through, you know, the caution levels,” Justice said. “Naturally, if my county were in the red, I and my entire family would absolutely be very concerned. So I think it’s a great guide.”

Marsh agreed and said people shouldn’t let their guard down even if they live in areas depicted as green.

“The answer is yes, you can use it for that purpose and we know the more community spread the more likely you will be exposed to people with covid in your community,” he said.

He said the virus is probably in all West Virginia communities.

“We shouldn’t be complacent even if our county is in green because a green color doesn’t mean there’s no covid at all in your county,” Marsh said.

“There’s still covid in the green counties. There’s still covid in the yellow counties. There’s still covid in the gold counties.”

West Virginia officials also announced that outbreaks at schools, defined as two or more related cases, will be shown on the Department of Education website.

Officials said data will come to state from county superintendents, so there might be a lag of a day or two.

This afternoon, the page showed eight school outbreaks of two or three cases each.

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