CHARLESTON — West Virginia public and private schools won’t reopen until Sept. 8, Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday during his daily COVID-19 briefing.
A state Department of Education spokeswoman said that will be the start date for students, and “counties can bring teachers back prior to that date.”
Many school workers across the nation have expressed health concerns about returning. Kanawha County, the state’s most populous school system, had scheduled an Aug. 10 start date for students long before the pandemic struck. Cabell County was slated to welcome students back Aug. 13.
Aside from the mandated delay until Sept. 8, county school systems will still be given wide latitude on exactly how they want to reopen, state schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said Wednesday.
This could include a mix of in-person and online classes, but Burch said “most counties have told me they want to come back five days a week.”
Burch also announced more school reopening guidance from the state Department of Education would be posted online Wednesday at wvde.us/covid19.
Justice also noted the state’s spiking number of COVID-19 cases Wednesday.
“It’s preposterous to think we could be going back to school in two, three weeks with the information we have here,” he said. “Our cases (are) exploding to the upside. Absolutely, if we were to rush this and go back to school in two or three weeks, in my opinion, it’s the wrong decision because we don’t know, we just don’t know what’s going to happen. We have to buy some time.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics has written that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Schools are critical not just for education, but for socializing and providing free health care, therapy, meals and child care for working parents, and for detecting abused, neglected and suicidal children. President Donald Trump has also pushed for schools to reopen.
There have been 193,810 total confirmatory laboratory results received for COVID-19 in the state, with 3,707 total cases and 95 deaths statewide, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) on Wednesday.
Cases per county (case confirmed by lab test/probable case) are: Barbour (17/0), Berkeley (490/18), Boone (27/0), Braxton (3/0), Brooke (14/1), Cabell (178/6), Calhoun (4/0), Clay (11/0), Fayette (78/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (15/1), Greenbrier (67/0), Hampshire (42/0), Hancock (31 /3), Hardy (45/1), Harrison (91/0), Jackson (148/0), Jefferson (244 /5), Kanawha (366/10), Lewis (19/1), Lincoln (10/0), Logan (30/0), Marion (92 /3), Marshall (48/1), Mason (21/0), McDowell (6/0), Mercer (59/0), Mineral (59/2), Mingo (24/2), Monongalia (381/14), Monroe (14/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (14/1), Ohio (113/0), Pendleton (13/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (36/1), Preston (75/16), Putnam (74/1), Raleigh (64/1), Randolph (170/2), Ritchie (2/0), Roane (11/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (18/1), Tucker (6/0), Tyler (7/0), Upshur (21/1), Wayne (119/1), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (25/0), Wirt (5/0), Wood (149/8) and Wyoming (7/0).
Ohio has 56,384 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 2,737 confirmed deaths.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said there were at least 17,919 coronavirus cases in the state, 402 of which were newly reported Wednesday.
“The rising case numbers are cause for concern, so tomorrow we’re going to announce some new requirements that are going to be mandatory,” Beshear said.
Six new deaths were also reported for the state Wednesday, raising the death total to 608.
There have been at least 451,451 coronavirus tests performed in Kentucky, and at least 4,912 residents have recovered from the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the U.S. to 2,982,900. There have been 131,065 deaths related to the virus.
BARBOURSVILLE — As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to increase throughout Cabell County, local volunteer fire departments have been left scrambling for supplies and donations needed to protect them from the virus and keep the lights on at their stations for another day.
As everyone attempts to navigate the world with COVID-19, even the fire departments aren’t the same. Meetings at firehouses have been canceled, firefighters are not able to spend downtime at the station the same way, and community outreach and parties have stopped.
While thousands of Cabell County residents remain in self-isolation to combat the spread, volunteers at Cabell County’s seven volunteer fire departments are unable to do so, said Andrew Frazier, deputy chief of the Barboursville Volunteer Fire Department.
“Just because there’s been a little change in our responses to certain calls, we are still answering the calls that come in,” he said. “We just have to tweak how we do that.”
Frazier said he stays in contact regularly with all of Cabell County’s seven volunteer fire departments and he believes they are facing the same difficulties: a lack of supplies from the state and monetary donations from the community.
Departments can order supplies through the state, but red tape, paperwork and bureaucracy has slowed the process of them receiving those, he said.
“Stuff that was ordered eight to nine weeks ago finally came in, but the Cabell County volunteer departments, all seven of us, are still needing equipment,” he said.
“We are in need of more equipment. With an upswing in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in West Virginia, that means the first responders need more supplies.”
At the Barboursville VFD, no one has come into contact yet with a suspected COVID-19 case on a call, but they still are taking precautions. They’ve molded their protocol to that of the Huntington Fire Department, which involves sending fewer people to medical distress calls and waiting for EMTs’ decisions on if they need fire department assistance or not.
Taking those same precautions during a fire call isn’t possible.
While the Barboursville department has plenty of hand sanitizer, they still lack proper supplies of goggles, face shields, masks, gloves and other items needed for protection against the virus. The department currently has no biohazard suits to help protect the volunteers when they respond to calls.
The department has received masks and services, such as sanitization, from community members that have gone a long way, but Frazier said he is now down to one face shield with a crack in it.
A local cleaning service has sanitized the trucks and station a few times already, and will continue to do so during the pandemic, Frazier said. While the firefighters have not come into contact with a COVID-19-positive person yet, the business said it will return to sanitize the station should exposure be reported.
COVID-19 hit right in the middle of the department’s yearly donation fundraisers, which has resulted in fewer incoming funds.
Frazier said most donations the departments receive come from local businesses, which have faced their own financial woes after being shut down and restricted during the pandemic.
The donations could go toward equipment or even keep the lights on for another day at stations across the county.
“We understand people are struggling, but if they’re able to still make the donation, monetary donation to their local VFD, it is greatly appreciated,” he said.
“That goes to their day-to-day operations. The water company is not cutting us any slack. Electric is not. The gas company is not. We don’t get a major break on fuel, so we still have to buy all of our fuel for the fire trucks.”
As an example of how expensive it is to run the department, Frazier said the Barboursville VFD just bought 20 pants and jacket sets with liners for about $46,000. The purchase doesn’t include boots, helmets, gloves or other equipment needs, which might have to take longer to get without the funds to do so.
HUNTINGTON — Heading back to school is inherently expensive. Students need fresh supplies like pencils and crayons for the new year, and basics like tissues, paper towels and wipes are typically bought in bulk.
But this year, school leaders in Cabell County have been faced with a series of new “must haves,” like the hiring of additional personnel, disinfecting machinery and personal protective equipment.
As district staff look to welcome students back to classrooms for what could be five-day, in-person weeks, Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds should help balance out the costly additions.
“Overall, we’ve been in some pretty sound financial shape over the years,” said Treasurer Drew Rottgen. “It’s because of conservative budgeting, and we’re very proud of that. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot. We have come into some funding under the CARES Act. We’ve been working on submitting all of the applications. This week, that’s been approved by the Department of Education. It’s a roughly $5 million grant.”
Rottgen said while some of these dollars will go to private schools in Cabell County, around $4.5 million will be at the district’s disposal.
About half of that amount went toward a contract with Apple to provide every student in the county with a take-home device, making Cabell a 1-1 county for the first time.
“So what’s left of it, that’s where we tried to incorporate some of these ideas we’re still proposing,” Rottgen said, adding that “we’re wanting to ramp up our ability to support the cleanliness and safety of our students and our staff when they come back into the buildings, so we’ve really tried to use that money as best as we can and maximize the resources.”
Some of the proposals were brought forward by the leadership team and Superintendent Ryan Saxe during a recent special Cabell County Board of Education meeting.
They include hiring additional custodial staff, a certified nurse or medical professional for each school, purchasing masks, face shields and other equipment as well as electrostatic disinfecting sprayers, a purchase that was approved by the board this week.
“We need to make sure we are ramping up our cleaning and sanitation every single day in our schools, but doing so in a very logical way that makes sense and is efficient perhaps may require some extra staff in order to get it done in the right way,” Saxe said. “We feel that we have the money to be able to add some additional custodial staff for a five-day traditional model as opposed to four-day.”
Saxe said the district would look to contract part-time nurses for elementary schools that currently share one. The new hires would be available to screen students at these schools who begin showing symptoms in the first half of the day.
In addition, Nichols Elementary School near Barboursville and Cox Landing Elementary School in Lesage do not have the needed space to house students who may feel ill, so the district would look to rent office trailers with restrooms inside to serve as health clinics.
“We have a great relationship with the health department, but also perhaps making sure we have a health care professional that is the single point of contact when things arise, and is the single point of contact with the health department to be able to do contact tracing, is extremely important,” Saxe said. “So we’re also looking at a contract for a chief health officer for the school district during the pandemic.”
In the realm of PPE, Saxe said well over 1,000 face shields have already been donated from Mountain State Educational Service Cooperative and the county has secured a low price on disposable face masks.
Still, Rottgen said it’s possible the district will have to dip into its general fund to accomplish what needs to be done to keep students and staff safe.
“The grant is good for a couple of years, but I do expect we’re going to spend most of it very quickly,” he said.
“It’s going to go quickly because this is an extremely expensive endeavor, getting our students and staff back into the buildings. That being said, it’s very likely that that’s not going to be sufficient for all these costs.”
Cabell County residents will head to the polls Aug. 22 to vote on an $87.5 million school bond, and should it pass, the district was set to commit an additional $10 million toward the bond projects.
“That’s something we still continue to feel very confident that we’re able to do that,” Rottgen said. “If we don’t receive any additional federal assistance — we hope we will — but that’s obviously something we’re going to have to be very conscientious of this year and into the following year.”
The board will potentially approve a more finalized re-entry plan at 5:30 p.m. July 16 during a special meeting at the Central Office.