CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An organization consisting of West Virginia teachers wants state officials to list all coronavirus cases across school systems, arguing there are more coronavirus cases in institutions than what is being reported.
The West Virginia United Caucus on Tuesday discussed its COVID-19 tracking project, in which the group said there have been 149 cases among schools since the school year began on Sept. 8.
The number differs from the state Department of Education’s data; the department reported 40 cases related to outbreaks Tuesday evening. The department defines a school outbreak as two or more confirmed coronavirus cases among students and staff from separate households.
“If you think of a middle or a high school, there’s many different wings. There’s many different parts of the school,” Kanawha County teacher Jay O’Neal said. “You could have four, five, six cases at a school, and it not be classified as an outbreak because they are not in the same room or not in the same groupings.”
Members of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association formed the West Virginia United Caucus during the 2018 statewide work stoppage to advocate for education issues.
The West Virginia United Caucus received anonymous reports from educators to compile its list of cases. O’Neal said each case had to have documentation, which could have been a news article or an email from a school leader.
“We even got a voicemail dropped in there from an All Call system from a school source. Anything like that we felt like was valid and good,” he said. “We got some screenshots of text messages from people, and we didn’t use that.”
O’Neal warned cases will likely increase, but the state Department of Education’s numbers are showing a much better picture than reality.
Tuesday’s announcement came after Gov. Jim Justice spent Monday’s coronavirus briefing defending his administration’s actions related to the pandemic. Justice stood by the multiple adjustments, which include placing smaller counties on a 14-day rolling average; having nursing home residents and college students count as one case if they live with others who test positive; and the addition of a gold category on the state’s coronavirus tracking maps.
Justice also defended the decision to increase testing, which O’Neal said is a good thing. O’Neal added the data must accurately detail the spread of the coronavirus in school systems.
“We think we need consistent, transparent ways of reporting cases. Not just outbreaks, but all cases,” he said. “We would like to see every county report the case to the public via website, Facebook, All Call, whatever works for the county, but be public about it.”
The West Virginia Education Association on Tuesday announced it is seeking an injunction regarding the changes to the state’s coronavirus policies. Union President Dale Lee said the state’s alterations place students and employees at risk.