Dave Mistich Published

Justice Rolls Out Color-Coded System To Guide School Reopenings, Extracurricular Activities


Gov. Jim Justice has rolled out a color-coded system to help county school systems guide best practices as the threat of the coronavirus lingers. The deciding metric will be how many cases a county has documented per 100,000 residents on a rolling 7-day average. 

Justice and members of his administration explained the system of re-entry metrics and protocols in a Friday virtual news briefing. He said no other state has created a reopening plan based on a system such as this one.

“It motivates our people,” Justice. “And not only that, it gives us the opportunity to really have a metric —  a scientific mathematical number —  in order to be able to measure us, too, that leads us and dictates to us what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.”

Justice said his plan focuses on community spread of the coronavirus, hoping to avoid the metric being “skewed” by outbreaks in congregate settings such as nursing homes or correctional facilities. He said the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources will soon release a map that details community spread in each county as it translates to the school reopening policies. 

“When we have an outbreak in a nursing home, you know, or a correctional facility, it doesn’t necessarily involve the entire county — and it would be unfair to give the county a red rating because of a situation at a correctional facility or one nursing home,” Justice said.

Under the plan, outbreaks at an entire nursing home or correctional facility would count as one case. Staff who test positive from those facilities would count as a half of a case.

Counties with seven or fewer cases will be designated green, those with 8 to 15 cases will be yellow, 16 to 24 cases will make a county orange and those with 25 or more cases will be red. 

Justice said counties in the red category would need to shut down in-person classes and operate virtually. Red counties would also need to suspend extracurricular events. 

“If it goes to red, in any and all situations immediately, at that point in time — not only will all sports activities stop — but school will stop as well and we will go 100 percent virtual,” Justice said. 

Some type of a mask requirement would be implemented in the yellow and orange categories for grades 3 and above. Counties designated green and yellow would be able to hold in HYPHEN person classes, as well as extracurricular activities without restrictions. 

But Justice said any counties in the orange and red categories just days ahead of the targeted Sept. 8 start date would not be able to resume in-person classes and activities. 

“We don’t want to set you up for automatic failure,” Justice said. “And we think, if you’re in the orange, you’ve got to get yourself out of the orange in order to be able to have extracurricular activities or to open the school safely.”

Justice said Grant Logan, Mingo counties would — right now — fall under the red category, but said he wants to give them time to improve. 

State coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh said the system was based on a model from Harvard Global Health Institute but noted that model has not been validated using states with small populations.

However, Marsh endorsed the plan, calling it “a very safe and innovative approach.”

State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said the West Virginia Department of Education is beginning to review contingency plans that were due Friday. 

“We’ll be working with each one of the county superintendents, as we go through their plans with them,” Burch said. “We’ll be working with them each and every day as Sept. 8 gets closer.”

As of Friday morning, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reported 157 deaths from COVID-19 and 8,274 cases of the coronavirus.