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U.S. education secretary offers praise while state officials eye covid cases in schools

The U.S. education secretary praised some of West Virginia’s actions on covid-19 today, while state officials acknowledged they are watching how the pandemic affects the return to classrooms.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona participated remotely in a West Virginia pandemic briefing today, offering encouragement.

“We’re all on the same team here,” said Cardona, who expressed admiration for West Virginia programs such as vaccination popup clinics as well as $50,000 incentives for schools with the highest vaccination percentages.

“This is about doing everything in our power to give students an opportunity to engage in in-person learning that’s uninterrupted,” Cardona said.

As the school year has started, though, West Virginia is closely watching the effects of covid cases and related quarantines.

The state Department of Education today listed 20 outbreaks at school facilities across 13 West Virginia counties.

State figures show that over the past seven days one of the highest covid caseloads has been among ages five through 11 with 700 cases. Children that age aren’t yet eligible for vaccination.

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice at today’s briefing said he does not intend to issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, leaving that decision to local leaders.

“What we should do is leave it to the locals,” Justice said. “I think the local people can make a better decision on this than we can in Charleston.”

Clayton Burch

State Superintendent Clayton Burch said those local decisions can sometimes be made down to the school or classroom level.

“That’s the ability they have that we do not have when we try to do statewide mask mandates,” Burch said.

Particularly hard-hit has been Kanawha County, which was the first to return to classrooms in early August.

Capital High School went to remote status for the final three days of this week because of an outbreak. Capital is currently listed with 46 covid cases on the Kanawha County Schools website.

George Washington High School listed 18 cases, and South Charleston High listed 15. John Adams Middle listed 28, Horace Mann Middle listed 15, and West Side Middle listed 15.

Those identified cases would not be the only effects, though, because other students who are identified as having been in close contact may be sent home to quarantine until they are able to get a covid test.

In cases like Capital, Burch said, “We’re not talking about long-term closures. We’re talking about very, very short-term, temporary closures working with local health departments.”

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