Jim Justice file photo

Gov. Jim Justice speaks during a COVID-19 briefing in the photo above. 

CHARLESTON — A top state official said local health departments and boards of education should be working together to provide information about any positive COVID-19 tests in schools.

Bill Crouch, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), said during Gov. Jim Justice’s COVID-19 briefing Wednesday that DHHR will eventually have that information but it’s up to the health departments to release it locally when it is confirmed.

“We may not know about any outbreak information (specific location in county),” he said, adding the verification process relies on the health department’s investigation.

“These are local issues and I certainly think it’s important for folks to know and we encourage that,” he said.

“The hangup is getting the information from localities,” Gov. Jim Justice said of the delay in being up to date on the DHHR dashboard. “I will make an effort to push on that.”

Justice also once again called for increased testing, especially in counties in the orange or red color zones on the County Alert System.

“We have got to test to stop this dreaded disease,” he said, and a swab was taken from him during the briefing to show how easy and quick it is. “The biggest driver (of testing), more than anything else, it will identify people who are spreading it more and more … If you test more, we will be able to pinpoint and surgically attack this disease.”

On Monday, Justice directed the National Guard and DHHR to work with local health departments to ramp up free testing in counties that are in orange or red on the alert system.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state COVID-19 Czar, said the testing may catch “super spreaders,” which comprise only 8.9 percent of positive cases but who infect 80 percent of the total positive cases.

The spread is likely to occur during the two-day window before they have symptoms and the day they have symptoms, he said.

“Get tested to help make sure we identify these folks to help them if they need help” and prevent infecting others, he said.

Another issue is people who may have it but show no symptoms at all and testing can catch those as well so they can be quarantined.

Marsh also emphasized that the virus is spread in the air by droplets, similar to an aerosol, which is why it can spread by someone talking, coughing or even breathing as it hangs in the air.

“That’s why wearing a mask and physical distancing are so important,” he said.

In fact, Justice said the lack of mask wearing and physical distancing at bars in Monongalia County prompted him to once again close all bars earlier this month, after reopening them and then seeing people “piled on top of each other” and no masks being worn.

Eleven bars have filed a lawsuit against Justice on the closure, he said.

The county had seen surges already, was in the red zone and many cases had been traced to bars.

“I shut them back down and I am proud of it,” he said. “I am not backing up on that decision … I say, pour it (the lawsuit) on.”

Justice also said an agreement has been reached with private and Christian schools about bringing kids back into classrooms when the county is in the orange zone.

The schools will test everyone, he said, but if the county is in red, they agreed not to send students into classrooms.

Justice said the exception given to those schools, when public schools cannot return students to classrooms in orange, is based on several factors, including fewer students, less sports and fewer buses.

“It is a minimized exposure and we all recognize that,” he said. “It is difficult to say that one size fits all.”

Justice said how much leeway he has in directing how private and Christian schools operate is “dicey” anyway because they receive no state funding.

With Halloween coming up in just over a month and increased concern about safety, Justice also addressed that issue during the briefing.

“By Oct. 1, guidelines will be available,” he said, referring to trick-or-treating activities.

Since Halloween falls on a Saturday, that will be “problematic,” he said of the likelihood of more trick-or-treaters out and about, and more parties.

“I want counties and cities to weigh in on this,” he said.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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