PRUNTYTOWN— The Taylor County Board of Education (BOE) met in an emergency session Monday evening, to review the response to COVID-19 within the county’s school system, after the state’s color coded metric map that was released on Saturday evening left a lot of parents, medical professionals and school officials confused and concerned.
To shed some light on the recently reported COVID numbers, as well as to address the changes that had been made to the state map, Dr. David Bender, and Grafton-Taylor County Health Department Threat Preparedness Coordinator Shawn Thorn were on hand.
Bender revealed that on Monday, September 30, the county began offering free drive-thru COVID testing. He reported that during that Monday, 94 individuals were tested, and by Wednesday,30 of those tests came back positive.
“This was shocking to me. It was the largest number of positives we had ever reported,” Bender noted.
He explained that local health entities quickly took action, further testing those who were reported positive but were asymptomatic, resulting in 10 of the 19 individuals who were retested actually being negative.
“When there was that large of a number, we knew there was a problem. We ruled out testing error, so that meant issues at the lab or with the test kits,” Bender stated.
He further divulged that once the secondary results were in, the state was rather slow to adjust the county’s number to reflect the changes.
It wasn’t until 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning that the state had decertified all of those cases that did not yield a positive result when retested.
“This was the first time that the state had decertified cases without two negative test. This resulted in Taylor County moving from red to gold,” said Bender.
However, when the West Virginia Department of Education released the weekly map on Saturday evening, it stunned many to see that Taylor County was green. If the county had just been gold, how was it so quickly moved to green?
Bender addressed this question saying that the quick color change was due to not the number of positive cases that were reported, but because Taylor County’s daily positivity rate fell below four percent over a two week period, which differs from the priorly used seven day rolling average. Which only raised additional questions and concerns.
Thorn said it was his belief that the state could have done a better job communicating to local health officials, as they were unaware of the new 14 day average, until the information had already been released.
When the question was posed to Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia Coronavirus Czar he said, “for counties that have a greater than 16,000 population and have less than 20 total cases in their seven day totals, we move to a 14 day rolling average.”
“Public health literature suggests that at least 20 cases are needed for any rate calculation,” he continued.
While the free testing event is being held per orders from Governor Jim Justice, Bender believes this has actually diluted the county’s daily percent positive rate, making the risk seem less than what it actually is.
Because the free testing is open to any resident, even if they are not suspected to have been exposed to the virus or are showing no signs of being ill, he feels as though those in that situation who are tested, are reducing the county’s positivity rate.
“I’m not sure why anyone would want to make the risk seem less than it is, but that is what I feel is happening,” he expressed.
Now that the virus has made its way into local schools, the BOE also discussed their preparedness if the need would arise to go fully remote, because of the county being red.
Thorn noted that when it comes to looking at the daily percentage positive rate, the county is not currently close to being in the red, however he was sure to stress that this number changes daily.
“We could be orange one day and red the next, or vice versa,” he shared. “If we do fall into red, even for just one day, it should trigger a next day shutdown of schools and extracurriculars.”
Recognizing that the situation may get worse before it gets better, the board spoke with school administrators and teachers to discuss their preparedness and ability to adjust to going remote.
To this a teacher from Taylor County Middle School (TCMS) spoke up and advised the members of the BOE that while it may not be an easy feat, she has faith in her collogues’ ability to adapt.
“I can’t speak for all of our schools, but TCMS has excelled in our technology field. We are teaching each other, and our students are teaching us. We are all learning this together. We can adapt and come up with a collaboration of a bunch of different strategies,” she voiced. “When teachers in this county are put to the task to do something for our students, we do it. Teachers in this county give 150 percent.”
Others spoke on the topic as well, noting that while time to prepare would be necessary, they feel confident that if the schools were forced into a fully remote situation they could in fact continue to provide a quality education to their students.
Additionally, as a result of the meeting, the board determined that because of having staff at Flemington Elementary School (FES) test positive for the virus, the school will remain closed next week, and it is highly suggested that families who have a FES student in PreK, third or fourth grade consider quarantining siblings as a precautionary measure to keep the spread at bay.
“We are evolving every day. Constantly working to ensure that we can keep our students and staff safe and healthy, while providing them with the best education we can. We need to be prepared, and our community needs to be prepared. We will continue to work towards at this, as we have been since July,” expressed Taylor County Superintendent of Schools Christy Miller.