Virus community spread focus prompts tweak to WVa color map

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By JOHN RABY Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A recently released color-coding system for West Virginia public schools to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic is being tweaked to focus more on community spread, Gov. Jim Justice said Monday.
The model will still use four colors to classify the status of each county’s school system based on the seven-day average of new daily cases per 100,000 population. The colors range from minimal community transmission in green, moderate transmission in yellow, higher transmission in orange and substantial transmission in red.
Schools in counties that have an orange or red coding will not be allowed to have athletic competitions, and red counties must suspend in-person instruction and activate remote learning plans, Justice said.
The change will now count each employee of a nursing home or prison who contracts the virus as one case. Before, employees were counted as half of a case. The reason for the change reflects the thinking that those people go out into the community, potentially advancing the spread of the virus, officials said.
It will still count positive cases among nursing homes residents and prisoners as only one overall case per facility, no matter how many individual cases it might have. That places less emphasis on those congregate cases when considering county school status because those people stay in one place, officials said.
There currently are active outbreaks at 21 nursing homes and active cases at three regional jails or prisons.
The color-coding map is based on a Harvard University model. But Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus czar, said the Harvard model does not separate congregate and community spread of virus cases.
“We live in such a a small population state,” Marsh said. “We have basically decided we will just look at what is the community spread.”
The changes were announced after Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Salango criticized Justice for not counting nursing home residents and prison inmates individually in regard to the coding system. Salango said both nursing home residents and inmates are around workers who go out into the community.
He said Justice “wants to keep the (virus) numbers as low as possible.”
Justice replied that anyone who believes there is a political component to the coding system is “either so biased or living in a cave.”
Under the new system, Boone, Lincoln, Mingo and Taylor counties would be in the orange and Logan would be in the red. About half of the 55 counties are in green.
Justice has pushed back the start of the school year to Sept. 8.
According to health officials, there have been at least 8,630 positive cases and 160 virus deaths in West Virginia. The virus usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms, but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with other health problems.
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