HUNTINGTON — Cabell County’s count of more than 600 COVID-19 cases includes all those of affected Marshall University students residing in the county, local health officials said.
In those cases and others, “we do the case investigations and the contact tracing,” said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “That would include any residents of the residence halls or anyone who has moved here and gotten an apartment for the purpose of going to school.”
Whether cases among university students are recorded in county totals has emerged as a point of contention with public schools reopening statewide.
A color-coded map monitored by state officials helps determine whether schools can resume classes in person or must proceed instead with instruction online. The colors are based on cases per 100,000 people. Cabell is coded yellow, indicating a rate of 3.1 to 9.9 cases per 100,000. Rates of 25 or more put counties in the red, barring in-person classes, athletic contests and other activities.
Monongalia County, home to West Virginia University in Morgantown, has reached that status, resulting in public school and athletics shutdowns. A spike in the number of cases on campus following a holiday weekend of parties prompted WVU officials earlier this week to halt in-person classes through Sept. 25.
Some people in Monongalia have called on officials to exclude WVU students’ COVID-19 cases from the map count. Gov. Jim Justice has rejected those calls.
“This has drawn a lot more controversy than I anticipated, but these are not rules we made up as we go. These are not rules we made up for COVID,” Kilkenny said. “These are all standard protocol that we follow for any disease involved with a student or anyone who moves here or lives here.”
Officials have provided local health departments with clear guidance on how to count cases, Kilkenny said.
“There are always those odd cases, where somebody moved here to go to school and they got sick two days in, dropped out of school, went back home,” he said. “If all of the contacts seemed to be in that county, then we would probably give that investigation to that county, and we would discuss it, but that’s gonna be a very unusual situation.”
The most common scenario, Kilkenny said, is the student gives a local address when they are tested.
“As soon as they do that, the case is ours,” he said.