Wyoming County moves to orange; all schools closed for coming week

The Register-Herald file photo“We will make it work,” Wyoming County Schools Superintendent Deirdre Cline said right after Gov. Jim Justice announced in mid March that he was closing schools statewide due to the impending health threat from the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the ongoing crisis and ever-changing developments, Cline has kept her positive attitude.  

Wyoming County schools will be closed this week with all athletic competitions put on the shelf as well as the rate of Covid transmission ventured into orange territory on the state's color-coded map that dictates what schools can and cannot do.

In the span of one week, Wyoming County went from green, or a minimal transmission rate, to orange, the second highest rate, on the state's Covid-19 color-coded metrics map, compiled by the West Virginia Department of Education. The state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) has a map, too, and Wyoming County was orange on it as well.

The DHHR reported 27 new cases in the county over the previous seven days – with 163 cumulative positive tests posted Saturday, Oct. 17, up from 136 the previous Saturday, Oct. 10.

The orange designation for the coming week means in-person instruction at all schools has been suspended Oct. 19-23.

Based on the five-color system – moving from green, to yellow, to gold, to orange, and finally to red – each county is assigned a color based on the prevalence of Covid-19 within the borders.

The orange designation indicates a “heightened community transmission,” with 15 to 24.9 cases per 100,000 people on a rolling seven-day average.

The other metric that the state uses is a "positivity" rating which measures the percentage of Covid tests that produce a positive result. On Saturday, the county posted a 9.25 percent rate that lands it in red territory. Counties are allowed to use the lower of the two metrics to guide their response. In this case, it did not matter.

Essential student support services, such as free student meals, will continue in the county this week.

“All sports competitions are cancelled through Saturday, October 24,” according to a statement issued by Wyoming County Schools.

“Practice and conditioning may continue with very close attention to health and safety,” according to the statement.

In a related issue, Westside High and Berlin McKinney Elementary schools were closed Friday evening after the county Health Department confirmed one positive case at each facility.

Both schools will remain closed until the Health Department determines they can re-open.

Westside High was previously closed Sept. 23 after a staff member tested positive. Students, staff and visitors to the building during a designated time period were instructed to self-isolate until Oct. 6. The school then re-opened Oct. 8.

Wyoming County East High was closed Oct. 6 following a positive case and is not scheduled to re-open until Oct. 22.

All sports and extra-curricular activities are stopped at the three schools until the schools are cleared by the Health Department to re-open.

“We will work closely with the Health Department regarding protocols and contact tracing and to notify everyone regarding a re-entry date, ASAP,” according to a prepared statement.

“The confirmed cases are believed to have resulted from community events and/or contact and not from infection transmissions within the school,” according to the statement.

“In accordance with privacy laws, information specific to these cases will not be released publicly; however, this announcement is made to keep the community informed of the transmission of Covid-19 locally.”

Following best practices to prevent the spread of the virus, deep cleaning and sanitizing will be completed before the schools re-open.

For the upcoming week, with the exceptions of Berlin McKinney Elementary, Westside High, and Wyoming County East High schools, professional personnel will report to their schools from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily.

Custodians will report to their schools from 1 until 6 p.m. daily for deeper cleaning.

All other service personnel will report to their schools from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. daily.

Other employees will operate at the direction of their Central Office department directors.

“These protocols for the orange designation will remain in full effect through next Saturday, October 24, at 5 p.m.,” according to the prepared statement.

Students and families who chose the Virtual School option will continue as usual, according to officials.

“... Our children need to be in school! Working together, with masks, and wise decisions, we can be green, again, and stay green!” the statement said.

In terms of closings this year, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted several schools in addition to the three currently closed.

• Mullens Elementary closed Oct. 1 after a staff member tested positive. The school re-opened Oct. 16.

• Baileysville Elementary and Middle School was closed Sept. 28 after a staff member tested positive. The following day, the Health Department issued a statement asking the students and staff to self-isolate, wear masks, practice social distancing, and go out only “if you need to go out." The school re-opened Oct. 13.

• Glen Fork Elementary and Middle School was closed Sept. 22 after a staff member tested positive. The school re-opened Oct. 8.

• Wyoming County Career and Technical Center was closed Oct. 6-7 for deep cleaning after a positive case in the LPN class. Students and staff, with the exception of the LPN program, returned Oct. 8. Students and staff in the LPN class are quarantined for 14 days and have been advised to monitor for symptoms by the Health Department.

The Career and Technical Center was previously closed Sept. 10 when a staff member tested positive, then re-opened Sept. 24.

The state's color-coded map is updated throughout the week on the DHHR online datatbase site for informational purposes and to provide an indication of how each county is trending ahead of the Saturday 5 p.m. posting by the Department of Education, when each county is assigned its official color designation for the upcoming week. That Saturday designation determines the level of scholastic, athletic and extracurricular activities permitted in each county for that particular week, according to officials.

The two maps often differ as they did on Saturday. The DOE map showed seven counties in orange while the DHHR, posted at 10 a.m. Saturday, showed eight counties in orange.

Additionally, when a county moves to red or orange status, free Covid-19 testing sites are set up in that county within 24 hours and will be offered continually until the numbers improve.

Any time a county moves to gold status, at least one free testing event per week is held in that county until the numbers improve.

As the number of positive cases continues to increase, residents are reminded to remain vigilant, wear a mask or face covering in public, practice social distancing (maintain at least six feet from others), wash hands often, avoid crowds, and frequently clean heavily used surfaces such as door knobs, keyboards and countertops.

Covid-19, a respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus designated as SARS-CoV-2 that spreads person-to-person, was first identified in December 2019 in the Far East. It has since spread rapidly across the globe, greatly impacting public health as well as local, county, state, national and worldwide economies.

The virus can cause mild to severe illness. Some individuals have little to no symptoms. Many have a mild case but can spread it to others. Severe illness typically, though not always, occurs in older adults or in those with chronic diseases.

Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, congestion or runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, headache, shortness of breath, muscle or body aches, fatigue, chest pain, nausea/vomiting, and/or new loss of taste or smell.

For more information or if symptoms develop, residents should phone the Wyoming County Health Department at 304-732-7941.

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