Emily Allen Published

W.Va. Governor To Sign Order Authorizing Fall Reopening Of Colleges

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that he will sign an executive order authorizing universities and colleges to reopen their campuses this fall. 

Justice already announced his support for higher education reopening plans on Monday, before holding a closed meeting with public and private university presidents Tuesday. The group discussed coronavirus testing for out-of-state students and the implementation of face mask requirements, according to a press release from Justice’s communications office.

In West Virginia, young adults are testing positive for the coronavirus more than any other age range, according to coronavirus czar Dr. Clay Marsh.

“All around us, we see that there’s a lot of activity from COVID-19, and it’s important to note that across the country, and in West Virginia, we are seeing a rise in COVID-19 [cases] that is particularly isolated to people that are 18 to 29,” said Marsh, the executive dean of health sciences at WVU who the governor appointed in March as the state’s leading COVID-19 expert.

That age range, and people who are 30 to 39 years old, account “for a majority of the new cases in many parts of our country,” Marsh added. 

Data from the state on Friday showed West Virginia’s 20-to-29-year-old age bracket was the most active, accounting for more than 23 percent of the state’s total COVID-19 cases. 

According to Justice, higher education institutions have demonstrated to him they’re prepared to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

“I’m absolutely a believer that these universities and colleges have done incredible planning,” Justice said. “Each one of them has their own separate plan of how they can ensure the safety of the kids and the staff and everybody that’s there. … I believe without any doubt that we have flipped every rock, to ensure the parents of these children and all those that are involved, that we absolutely can go back to school and go back to school as safely as we possibly can.”

Across the state, colleges and universities have produced contingency plans for reopening, which include more distanced and outdoor dining options and replacing shared dormitory units with single-occupancy rooms. 

The governor also said Friday that signing the order is an important step to reopening K-12. On July 8, Justice and state superintendent of schools Clayton Burch announced West Virginia will reopen classrooms Sept. 8.

The state’s re-entry toolkit for school districts includes recommendations for social distancing in the classroom and the screening of COVID-19 symptoms among children and adult personnel. 

The department will issue an updated toolkit early next week, according to spokesperson Christy Day. 

West Virginia education leaders have yet to elaborate on the state’s plans for when teachers and other school employees test positive for the coronavirus.

Day said in an email to West Virginia Public Broadcasting Friday that the department will have a better idea of how it’s handling teachers who test positive in either the first or second week of August, after county school districts finalize and share their individual re-entry plans with the state. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared updated guidelines for K-12 schools on Thursday, July 23, urging schools to resume in-person classes, saying “the best available evidence” shows children with COVID-19 are less often symptomatic.

“[T]he harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well-known and significant,” the CDC noted at the start of its most recent online recommendations.

Some health experts say it’s still unclear how the virus affects young children and teenagers. Pediatricians told NPR earlier this week it’s also uncertain how the virus spreads among children to adults. 

The CDC’s new recommendations come two weeks after the president called the agency’s earlier guidelines for social distancing in the classroom “tough and expensive,” according to NPR

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.