WV (AP) – West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday said officials are working on plans to reopen schools across the state in early September as coronavirus cases rise to record highs.
The Republican governor said he is targeting Sept. 8 as a tentative date to reopen schools but stressed the timing could change depending on the state’s caseload. He did not immediately detail the safety precautions schools would be required to implement.
“Absolutely if we were to rush this and go back to school in two or three weeks, in my opinion its the wrong decision because we don’t know, we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the governor’s decision “is the right move for now.”
The announcement comes after health officials reported the state’s highest single-day tally of new virus infections Tuesday with 147 cases. Last weekend, the state blew past previous highs with at least 115 cases Saturday and 92 on Sunday. The surges are being attributed to community spread, including in bars, restaurants, and after trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
President Donald Trump is pushing state and local officials to reopen schools and colleges this fall. In a tweet Wednesday, Trump wrote “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!” It was unclear what funding he would cut off or under what authority.
Justice, a Trump ally, this week signed an executive order requiring that people over the age of 9 wear face masks indoors when social distancing is impossible. The governor’s order did not include a penalty for not wearing the masks but said Wednesday he is considering some kind of punishment for those who don’t comply with the directive. He didn’t provide additional details.
At least 95 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 3,600 have tested positive, according to state health data.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.