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A color-coded COVID-19 map is seen on the desk of Gov. Jim Justice during a press briefing Monday, Sept. 13.

CHARLESTON — The new school year had barely started in West Virginia when two counties were forced to move courses online temporarily due to a surge in coronavirus cases.

Preston County Schools announced it was shutting down in-person learning effective Tuesday. Students will return to school Sept. 27. In Calhoun County, schools were closed last week because of a high number of absences, and students were set to go back Thursday.

“Unfortunately, this is a message that I did not want to have to deliver to our students, to our parents, to our teachers and to Preston County,” schools Superintendent Steve Wotring said in a video.

Wotring said about 1,000 students were absent from classes, although he wasn’t sure how many were related to COVID-19. But he said many students either contracted the virus or were under quarantine after being exposed to someone else who has tested positive.

In addition, eight classrooms in the county were unstaffed Monday because of a lack of available substitute teachers. All sports and other extracurricular activities have been canceled. Teachers were preparing Tuesday and Wednesday for Thursday’s start to remote-only learning. Meal boxes will be delivered to families who have signed up for them, Wotring said.

“I am so sorry that we find ourselves in the midst of this crisis once again. But for now, it’s a decision that we have to make,” he said.

In Calhoun County, schools were shut down after more than 200 students were placed under quarantine after being in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case. Education leaders in the rural county then scrambled to determine how many families needed home access to internet services.

Some schools in at least five other counties were closed Tuesday because of a lack of available staffing or a high number of absences, according to the state Department of Education’s website.

On Thursday, more schools, including New Martinsville School and Magnolia High School in Wetzel County, moved to a remote learning schedule due to circumstances caused by COVID-19. Teachers were to provide remote instruction to their students for the remainder of the week.

Several counties temporarily shut down in-person learning last month, including Barbour, Clay and Monroe counties in late August.

After Gov. Jim Justice said it would be up to local leaders to determine whether masks should be worn in schools, 53 of the state’s 55 counties now require them. The exceptions are in Putnam and Pocahontas counties.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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