Covid-19 cases in Fayette County and portions of the surrounding area continue their seemingly unabated rise, and several school systems — including Fayette and Kanawha — were sidelined from in-person classroom instruction at the start of the week in wake of that heightened community transmission.

However, a Tuesday announcement from Gov. Jim Justice indicated Fayette County is among the school systems which can return to the classrooms and playing fields under a revised color-coded metrics map which dictates in-person school attendance and extracurricular participation. At a Tuesday press briefing, Justice revealed the tweaked map, and several of the counties previously in orange lowered in status to gold, which allows them to go back to school and the playing fields, the latter with stipulations. Teams from gold counties are limited to playing teams within their counties or squads from other gold counties.

In the revised map on the West Virginia Department of Education website, Fayette, Boone, Putnam, Logan and Mingo were in the gold status, which reflects 10 to 14.9 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population on a rolling average.

Kanawha and Monroe remained at orange, and Monongalia at red.

During Tuesday's briefing, officials indicated that the decision when to return to school for those who have moved from orange to gold would be left up to the individual counties. No decision had been announced in Fayette County by press time on Tuesday.

In Sunday's morning report from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Fayette County had 470 confirmed cases of Covid-19. That was up 20 from Saturday and an increase of 58 from the previous Sunday report. On Sept. 1, Fayette had 360 cases.

Fayette County Health Officer Dr. Anita Stewart said Sunday afternoon the county's number of cases had risen to 490, along with four probable cases. More inmate cases at Mount Olive Correctional Complex have been recently registered, small outbreaks are ongoing at three county nursing homes, and at least seven cases have been confirmed at an unidentified church in the county.

As of Sunday afternoon, 10 Fayette residents had lost their lives due to Covid-19, 13 residents were hospitalized, 204 had recovered, and there were 269 active cases.

The DHHR Tuesday morning figures listed 481 cases for Fayette and 2,035 cases for Kanawha. Note: There may be discrepancies in the DHHR numbers and a county's numbers depending on when reported cases are tabulated into the state database.

"We've had a bunch of community cases," Stewart said. Among those have been several positives which resulted from gatherings. "Only time will tell how many become positive from those events."

Stewart also cautions that any potential cases from Labor Day weekend activities have yet to surface in the tally.

There had been no school-related cases as of Sunday, Stewart said.

The upcoming days are a "pivotal time" for the county, she said. "We have a problem. It's going to take everybody doing the right things to stop this."

Stewart suggests businesses voluntarily "tighten up" on mask use. A potential move could be to revert back to more takeout and drive-through restaurant business.

Stewart planned to talk with representatives of local rafting companies Monday to explore revisiting safety guidelines in place for customers who are flocking to southern West Virginia to partake in the annual Gauley Season.

During his Monday press briefing on the pandemic, Gov. Jim Justice said he was keeping his eye on Fayette County, especially with an anticipated increase in rafting activity associated with Gauley Season, which kicked off Friday and runs through Oct. 18, attracting out-of-state outdoor enthusiasts.

On Tuesday, the governor revealed the finality of discussions aimed at dividing the orange category into two colors, saying its range – from 10.0 to 24.9 cases per 100,000 population – was too broad.

He said schools in the lower levels of that range night be able to open schools safely and get their athletes back in action.

Colored orange on the state's Saturday Covid-19 metrics map, Fayette and Kanawha schools have yet to hold in-person classes this semester. Their athletic teams, too, have been idled.

Fayette's seven-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 population, which determines its color assignment on a four-color map, had risen to 18.19 on Monday, while Kanawha's stood at 22.54. Prior to the latest map tweak, counties had to be below a 10.0 average to open schools and get their athletes back into the game.

Stewart readily admits to frustration. "I just want the community to know we are just as frustrated as they are," she said. "I want kids to be back in school as much as anyone."

If "we can't do the right things," prospects for in-person school get much dimmer, she said.

In Saturday's 5 p.m. release of the West Virginia Department of Education's activities metrics map, Fayette and Kanawha both remained in orange, which at the time meant another week of remote learning, extracurricular activities limited in scope, and no games. In fact, Justice Friday announced that teams from counties in the orange classification could no longer engage in physical practice or sport-specific drills, but conditioning would be allowed. Marching band activities must be limited to outdoors only, and instruments are permitted only when students are stationary and distanced in pods.

According to the WVDE, counties in orange Saturday included Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, Mingo, Monroe and Putnam. Staff may report to their schools, as determined by the county. Essential support services, including special education and meals, will continue.

The lone red county was Monongalia, which has been the scene of substantial community transmission.

The weekly metrics updates are posted at https://wvde.us/reentrymetrics.

Covid-19 notes:

• On Sept. 15, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said there have been 490,342 total confirmatory laboratory results received for Covid-19, with 12,976 total cases and 280 deaths.

On Tuesday, DHHR confirmed the deaths of an 87-year-old male from Logan County, a 93-year-old Mason County woman, a 66-year-old woman from Mercer County, and two Kanawha County women — an 88-year-old and a 91-year-old. "The passing of these West Virginians is reported with a heavy heart and we extend our deepest sympathies to their loved ones," said Bill J. Crouch, DHHR cabinet secretary.

Cases per county included: 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).

Visit the dashboard located at www.coronavirus.wv.gov for more information.

• The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department announced Monday there are 2,081 total Covid-19 cases in Kanawha County, which was up 50 from Sunday. Of those, 2,066 were confirmed cases and 15 were probable cases. At the time, active cases were at 745, an increase of 45 from the previous day. Recovered cases remained at 1,280. There had been 56 associated deaths as of Monday afternoon.

At least 16 Covid-19 cases have been linked to a recent wedding at Little Creek Park Golf Course, the KCHD announced Monday.

In light of the outbreak, Dr. Sherri Young, health officer and executive director of KCHD, urged residents to stay vigilant.

"Weddings are a joyful time, but we can't forget that we're in the middle of a pandemic," Young said. "If you go to a wedding or any other event where you're with other people, please wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from others, and wash your hands frequently. Protecting ourselves and others is our number one priority and we have to do all that we can to stop the spread of this virus."

For more, visit KCHDwv.org.

• Fayette County Schools Superintendent Gary Hough says teachers and staff were in their school buildings last week, and that remains the case this week.

"They worked all kinds of crazy shifts, and they did a tremendous job," Hough said of staff. Some nighttime shifts were necessary to attempt to get as much of the remote learning supplies to families as possible.

Hough admitted there were "technical glitches" as remote learning equipment was rolled out throughout the communities the first week. For example, some equipment worked at the schools but wouldn't work at some homes, there were problems with associated passwords or microphones, and some equipment — such as I-pads for students in the lower grades — has been ordered but has yet to arrive.

"I think we've got a lot of it worked out," Hough said, adding that he understands if parents have been frustrated. "I want to thank the parents for their patience. This has been a tough way to start the school year."

Before Fayette's late upward trend in Covid-19 cases as the school year approached, the county had planned to open with a blended learning model, which would have allowed students to be at school some of the time and get more exposure to new equipment. "We would have had kids in here to get familiar (with the equipment)," Hough said.

Hough said there have been no Covid-19 cases involving Fayette athletes "that we're aware of." A couple staff members exhibited symptoms in the week leading up to the start of school, and they "immediately quarantined."

The eventual aim remains to have staff and students in the classrooms provided the Covid-19 numbers allow. "I want our kids to be in school." Besides the learning aspect, Hough adds, "The social and emotional well-being of our children is a big concern."

A spring survey indicated about 500 Fayette students don't have access to internet at their homes, Hough said. In addition to the school system's work on that front, others have stepped forward to help provide WiFi hotspots for students to utilize if needed.

Another key area Hough stressed Sunday was food distribution, which occurred at the schools Tuesday and will also take place Thursday, provided Fayette's return to the classrooms hasn't occurred by then. With the exception of the Oak Hill school campus, which will run on a staggered schedule due to traffic concerns, meals will be distributed from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday.

Meal availability is not an income-based scenario, Hough stressed. "We want our parents to take advantage of the food given out ... for any student toddler to age 18," he said.

Arrangements can be made for neighbors to collect food for families, and school buses will be making stops at several points in the county to distribute food. Those stops include the Church of God at Kincaid, Adena Village and the former Falls View School.

For updates, visit the Fayette County Schools website at https://www.boe.faye.k12.wv.us/ or follow the system on Facebook or Twitter.

• Through Sept. 10, the DHHR listed three Fayette nursing homes with small, active case outbreaks. At the time of that report, Hilltop Center had three positive staff members and one positive resident, and Montgomery Rehab and Nursing and Ansted Center each had one employee with a positive test. Dr. Anita Stewart, Fayette County health officer, said Sunday the Montgomery facility currently has two positive residents who are asymptomatic, as well as three positive staff members.

Testing is held weekly for residents and staff in long-term care centers involved in active outbreaks, Stewart said. Ansted has one more test pending and, if a positive doesn't emerge, the outbreak will be cleared. The other two locations will test this coming week.

Among the active outbreaks in Kanawha County long-term care centers as of Sept. 10 were a continuing one at Marmet Center, which has had 40 cumulative positive resident cases, 28 cumulative positive staff cases and five deaths. There have also been two resident cases and one staff case at Glasgow Health and Rehabilitation Center.

• As of a 3 p.m. update on Monday, Sept. 14, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported 25 active inmate cases at Mount Olive Correctional Complex, with six test results pending, 162 recovered and 16 in quarantine. Of 2,245 total inmate tests, 2,052 have been negative, and there have been 190 cumulative cases.

Elsewhere, a test is pending on a resident of the Gene Spadaro Juvenile Center in Mount Hope, and four were in quarantine at that facility.

• Free flu vaccines will be offered at drive-up testing events held by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority. The vaccines are free due to financial support of the Kanawha County Commission.

"Getting a flu shot is important every year because it helps protect us from the flu, but it's especially important that people get a flu vaccine this year because it will help us reduce the strain on hospitals responding to the Covid-19 pandemic," said Dr. Sherri Young, health officer and executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. "The last thing we need this fall and winter is a flu pandemic on top of a coronavirus pandemic."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone aged 6 months-and-older get a flu vaccine every year.

People can also make an appointment to get their free flu vaccine at the KCHD by calling 304-348-8080.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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