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KEYSER, W.Va. — Though the Department of Education’s color-coded map will not be released until Saturday evening, Mineral County Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft said Thursday afternoon that schools will operate under ‘red’ status for the week of Nov. 16-21.

“Regardless of the color we may be on the DHHR Map/WVDE daily or Saturday map, our 7-day infection rate continues to be nearly four times the standard for Red and our percent positive is more than double the state average,” Ravenscroft wrote in a social media post. “We do not feel the need to delay this announcement until Saturday evening. We will share more this weekend regarding specific details for next week.”

Students will receive remote instruction and no athletic competitions can be held, including first-round football playoff games scheduled Sunday at Frankfort and Keyser.

Thursday evening, the county health department reported an additional 31 coronavirus cases, which raised the cumulative count to 486. Active cases rose to 224.

Despite the figures on Thursday morning reporting a seven-day rolling average infection rate of 90.39 people per 100,000 — the highest in the state for the second day in a row — Mineral County remained orange on the color-coded reentry map maintained by the Department of Health and Human Resources, as the positivity rate was at 6.93%, below the state threshold of 8%.

That map is released for public awareness. The Saturday map determines whether schools can have in-person instruction and athletic competitions.

Asked whether he thought the state map was working as intended, Ravenscroft critiqued the application of the data used to make determinations for schools.

“Based on our trends, which continue to get much worse in Mineral County and statewide, it would be difficult to say it’s working if the intent is for public health conditions to improve,” Ravenscroft said via email. “I’m not saying the maps are to blame, just pointing to data which shows we continually have more districts on remote learning each week as infection rates, percent positivity, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to climb.”

The maps, Ravenscroft said, “are complicated to the average viewer who doesn’t keep up with daily trends or (Gov. Jim Justice’s) press conferences.”

“Most of the public confusion stems from having two separate maps which mirror each other upon first glance, but one is intended for the week, and the other is a daily indicator,” he wrote. “Another point of confusion is the ‘unless’ which varies by color or map — for instance, the daily map does not influence schools ‘unless’ your county becomes red as we did last Wednesday. The weekly Saturday map does not change during the week ‘unless’ the daily map turns red.”

The weekly map maintained by the Department of Education could stand some improvement, Ravenscroft said, as “it advises counties about safety conditions for school and athletics for the ensuing week, based on data from three days prior.”

“This is the equivalent of a superintendent deciding to close school for snow based on a weather report from three days ago — when in fact we look at the most recent information/predictions available to us to make the safest call,” Ravenscroft wrote. “The week we went red, we knew locally our trend was not very good and we were headed in the wrong direction, but the Saturday map had us yellow. Simply put, I think a map advising the future should be more predictive and take the most recent data into account.”

With the sharp increase in cases has come a corresponding increase in hospitalizations. As a result, WVU Potomac Valley Hospital wrote on Facebook late Wednesday that the hospital opened its incident command center on Tuesday.

“This step in emergency management was based on a rapid influx of COVID-19 patients in the emergency room and a very low availability of inpatient beds,” officials said in the post.

The Short Gap Volunteer Fire Department reported being similarly busy in a Facebook post late Wednesday.

“Today alone our department transported 3 Covid positive patients as well as a possible 4th,” the post read. “If you call 911 please be prepared for us to arrive wearing P100 respirator masks on every call and if you meet dispatch criteria for possible positive or are a known positive we will be taking the time upon arrival to properly put on our PPE to try and keep ourselves protected as best we can so we can continue to serve our community. Please have patience as this is a trying time for our volunteers as well.”

Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News, covering West Virginia and more. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email lrenner-wood@times-news.com or call 304-639-4403.

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