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Justice adds ‘gold’ designation to county school map

CHARLESTON — State officials on Tuesday admitted the color-coding system developed for West Virginia school systems led to decreased testing for COVID-19, prompting the state to “tweak” the system.

After teasing to it Monday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced a fifth color to the color-coded county map that dictates what school looks like.

The new color phase is gold, and it will fall between yellow and orange. Counties with a seven-day average between 10 and 14.9 will go gold and will be permitted to attend face-to-face schooling. Masks will be required at all times and large assemblies are not permitted. Schools will also be asked to limit the movement of groups of students.

As for athletics, counties in gold will only be permitted to play within the county or in other gold counties. Immediate families will only be permitted to attend games in gold, but the state “tweaked” yellow and green to allow grandparents to attend.

If by 5 p.m. Saturday a county is still orange, the state will then look at the county’s positive percentage rate over a seven-day rolling period. If the percentage is below 5%, counties in orange can still attend school.

“This now becomes either/or,” Justice said.

With the changes, now Putnam, Logan, Mingo, Boone and Fayette counties are gold.

“The No. 1 thing for me is this puts more students in front of their teachers, and that’s what is most important for me,” said state superintendent of schools Clayton Burch.

Justice said the “tweaks” to the system were needed because the orange phase was too broad and it wasn’t fair to the counties that were on the edge of yellow.

Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, said they found the color system was actually disincentivizing people to get tested because people are afraid of impacting their county’s color.

“Every time we get a new case, you get a little bit worse on the color-coded map,” Marsh said.

He said he hopes the new color, along with the tool of using the daily percentage rate, will incentivize people to get tested, which will make communities safer.

Justice said the West Virginia National Guard has been instructed to ramp up testing in the state, beginning in the only red county: Monongalia. The governor said he wants to test the people of West Virginia quickly and without any cost to the residents.

“Absolutely please take advantage of the free testing,” Justice said. “It will help give us information and help your county. It will make us safer.”

There were 156 new positive cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday, for a total of 12,976, and five new deaths: an 87-year-old man from Logan County, a 93-year-old woman from Mason County, a 66-year-old woman from Mercer County, an 88-year-old woman from Kanawha County and a 91-year-old woman from Kanawha County. The deaths bring the total fatalities to 280.

Cases per county are: Barbour (37), Berkeley (890), Boone (182), Braxton (10), Brooke (105), Cabell (665), Calhoun (22), Clay (30), Doddridge (17), Fayette (481), Gilmer (19), Grant (147), Greenbrier (115), Hampshire (96), Hancock (136), Hardy (75), Harrison (322), Jackson (231), Jefferson (409), Kanawha (2,035), Lewis (38), Lincoln (144), Logan (549), Marion (246), Marshall (143), Mason (128), McDowell (79), Mercer (384), Mineral (153), Mingo (304), Monongalia (1,745), Monroe (144), Morgan (46), Nicholas (72), Ohio (334), Pendleton (47), Pleasants (15), Pocahontas (58), Preston (143), Putnam (416), Raleigh (443), Randolph (230), Ritchie (10), Roane (42), Summers (28), Taylor (115), Tucker (15), Tyler (15), Upshur (59), Wayne (323), Webster (7), Wetzel (47), Wirt (9), Wood (339) and Wyoming (82).

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department reported 234 active cases Tuesday.

In Ohio, the Lawrence County Health Department reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, with patients’ ages ranging from 18 to 85. The county has had a total of 574 cases, with 490 out of isolation and 17 deaths.

Statewide, there had been a total of 139,485 cases as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, with 4,506 deaths related to the virus.

In Kentucky, the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, for a total of 378. The new cases are a 27-year-old woman, 28-year-old man, 30-year-old man, 32-year-old woman, 57-year-old woman, 59-year-old man, 63-year-old woman, 68-year-old woman, 72-year-old woman and 82-year-old woman, all isolating at home.

Statewide, there were 745 new cases reported, for a total of 58,000. Ninety-five of the newly reported cases were from children ages 18 and younger, the youngest being just 27 days old, according to a release from the Governor’s Office.

There were also nine new deaths reported, for a total of 1,074. At least 10,962 Kentuckians have recovered from the virus, the release said.

More than 34,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the U.S. on Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for a total of 6,537,627. There have been 194,092 deaths related to the virus.

Local dogs have their day at Huntington park

UNTINGTON — Huntington residents and their four-legged friends have kept the city’s dog park bustling in the cooler evening hours in recent days.

The PetSafe Dog Park, which is located in Ritter Park, opened in 2012 and features 3 1/2 acres of space where dogs can run, jump and play. The park has designated areas for large dogs and small dogs, as well as a double gated entry system to help keep dogs inside the park safe.

The dog park does have set rules — among other things, dogs must be properly vaccinated, they must wear a collar with identification at all times and they must be leashed when they enter and leave the park — and is open from sunrise until sunset. Owners are responsible for their dogs, and dogs with a known history of aggressive behavior are not permitted at the dog park.

The dog park is maintained by the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District.

City of Huntington proposes $100K in aid to local CVB

HUNTINGTON — Many industries, including travel and tourism, have taken substantial hits financially during the COVID-19 pandemic; in fact, the Huntington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau lost nearly half of its annual budget due to vacancies in local hotels.

But on Monday evening, City Council’s Finance Committee approved a resolution to go before full council in two weeks that would provide $100,000 in aid to the CVB, in hopes to fill gaps in its budget and continue to attract visitors to the city.

“The CVB, our funding is completely based on the room tax in Huntington and Cabell County, so with occupancy being so low, obviously our funding was hit,” CVB President Tyson Compton said Monday. “This appropriation would be very beneficial to us as we continue reaching outside to the community to let people know what we offer here, get them to come into the community and stay in our hotels.”

The economic impact felt in the travel industry trickled into local restaurants and attractions, too, and Mayor Steve Williams said the $100,000 to the CVB could also help the city’s businesses recover and prevent further loss.

“We know the good work that they do, the urgency that they bring to make sure that we continue to stay on the map to those who are visiting the area, and this is money that would be well spent,” Williams said. “We also know if we don’t spend the $100,000 with the CVB now, we will be losing that and more revenue in the future.”

Although the effects of the virus have been grim, Compton said statistics show people are still traveling, but are searching for less densely populated destinations within driving distance.

“Research shows that people still want to travel and are making plans, but their No. 1 concern is safety. Huntington has an opportunity now to attract visitors who are looking for destinations that are in less populated areas, have more outdoor options and are within driving distance,” he said. “That is a perfect description of what we have to offer in Huntington and Cabell and Wayne counties. Now is the critical time to connect with these potential visitors, and this funding will allow us to amplify those efforts.”

Williams said the availability of the funds is a direct result of the decisions his administration has made over the years.

“We’re not taking it away from anything,” Williams said. “We are running ahead of our budget, so because of the reimbursement we were able to receive from the CARES Act, we are sitting stronger than this city has been in decades.”

Aside from helping the local economy, Compton and Williams said the funding could help attract new residents to the area.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges, but it also has provided Huntington with a prime opportunity to present itself to the world as a place to live and visit away from densely populated communities,” Williams said.

Council members will vote on the resolution at their meeting Sept. 28.