Some West Virginia schools see spike in virus outbreaks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Schools in West Virginia’s capital and surrounding Kanawha County reported the most coronavirus outbreaks since the start of the pandemic on Monday.

A total of 41 students and three staff members have been affected by outbreaks across seven schools, according to the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.

In northern West Virginia, officials at East Fairmont High School announced that classes will be conducted remotely until April 6 due to a virus outbreak there, prompting all sports competitions to be called off.

Less than a week since Gov. Jim Justice announced the state’s color-coded map of outbreak severity would no longer determine in-person school attendance, some counties are struggling to keep classroom doors open. Justice has left it up to local health and school officials to determine when outbreaks are severe enough to cancel activities.

The outbreaks come amid a bump in hospitalizations and cases statewide. Justice lifted capacity limits on businesses earlier this month and loosened restrictions on schools, keeping in place a mask mandate.

Positive coronavirus cases grew for the third consecutive week in West Virginia.

Confirmed cases hit 1,924 last week, up 16% from the previous week, according to state health records.

After the number of positive virus cases statewide peaked in early January at more than 8,000 per week, cases bottomed out under 1,300 for the week ending March 7 before rising again.

The number of patients hospitalized hasn’t been updated since Friday, when there were 222, a 47% increase from March 13.

West Virginia’s vaccination effort plans to target residents aged 16 to 29 with clinics at high schools and colleges. All residents aged 16 and over have been eligible for shots since last week.

Currently, over 29% of the state’s total population is at least partially vaccinated, according to federal data. About 18% are fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,638 people so far. Four new deaths were reported on Monday.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said Monday it will provide vaccines to students aged 16 and up at eight high schools.

“We’re changing our strategy to vaccinate in the groups where we continue to see COVID-19 spread,” said Dr. Sherri Young, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. “Unfortunately, we continue to see high numbers of cases and outbreaks in our schools, mostly related to sports, so that’s one of the places we want to focus our efforts.”

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