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Gov. Justice announces most schools to return to in-person classes; school employees and elderly population next in line for vaccine

CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials today for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.


During Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice announced that, beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, all West Virginia elementary and middle schools will reopen to in-person learning five days each week.

All high schools will also return to in-person instruction five days each week, as long as their county is not Red in the DHHR County Alert System map.

“We have got to get our kids back in school,” Gov. Justice said. “During 2020 we learned that COVID-19 transmission rates in our schools during the first semester was 0.02 percent among students and 0.3 percent among staff. Our schools are safe when guidelines are followed.”

“We also learned, when we switched learning modes to virtual learning, the outcomes are not good,” Gov. Justice said. “One-third of our students are receiving failing grades in at least one of their core classes. The virtual learning models do not work for many students without consistent, live engagement from a teacher.

“Also the DHHR reports that there is a reduction in child protective services referrals by an average of 50 to 54 percent per month,” Gov. Justice continued. “We’ve got a bunch of kids that are out there, really suffering. So we must get back in school.”

From Jan. 4, 2021, through Jan. 15, 2021, counties will move to remote learning, and educators will use this two-week period to prepare for the return to in-person instruction. Families have the option to keep their children in virtual learning, regardless of changes to in-person instruction.

The revisions mean the WVDE’s Saturday Education Map will no longer be published and, instead, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) County Alert System Map will guide high school in-person instruction.

Additionally, Gov. Justice announced that winter sports and extracurricular activities are postponed until March 1, 2021.

“The research shows it is safe to restore the in-person learning model for parents that chose this option for the children,” State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch said. “We also know students are suffering because of the lack of in-person instruction. CPS referrals have decreased, student social and emotional well-being has suffered, and one-third of our students have received failing grades in at least one core subject area. We simply have to get our students back in school, in-person.

“The Governor understands the data is undeniable,” Superintendent Burch continued. “I fully support this decision because we know that heightened transmission rates experienced in communities are not reflected within the schools because of the mitigations in place.”


Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that the COVID-19 vaccine will soon be offered to all teachers, service personnel, and other school employees age 50 and older.

Vaccinations will be available beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, with an anticipated completion date of Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

“After we accomplish that, we will double back and offer the vaccine to all of our teachers, service personnel, and other school employees under the age of 50,” Gov. Justice said.

Information on where and when each school employee will be able to receive the vaccine will be distributed through the West Virginia Department of Education, directly to the superintendents of each county.


Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that West Virginia will also start allocating vaccines to individuals age 80 and older, beginning immediately.

However, patience is urged while the West Virginia National Guard’s Joint Interagency Task Force finalizes plans for the widespread distribution of vaccines for West Virginians in this age category. 

There are a limited supply of vaccine doses at this time, based on what is received weekly from the federal government. 

There will be ongoing supply of vaccines available through local health departments for West Virginians age 80 and older. Health departments will individually announce availability and locations for vaccinations. If individuals in this age category are patients at a Federally Qualified Health Center, they will be contacted by that center regarding access to a COVID-19 vaccine.

As vaccine supply increases, there will be more vaccines available to the general population based on age. Once vaccines are available at locations throughout West Virginia, they will be distributed on a first come, first served basis.

Gov. Justice has directed the West Virginia National Guard to plan vaccination clinics at locations throughout the state, including at National Guard Armories. These clinics have not yet been scheduled. When they are scheduled, they will be announced accordingly.

West Virginians are urged not to show up at local health departments or National Guard armories for vaccination unless a vaccination clinic for those age 80 and older is scheduled. Please do not overwhelm pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, or the COVID-19 hotline by calling repeatedly.


Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that all students, faculty, and staff at every Higher Education institution in West Virginia will be tested for COVID-19 when they return to campus for the spring semester.

“We’re going to test everyone coming back to our colleges and universities just like we did at the beginning of the year in the fall,” Gov. Justice said.

The Governor added that surveillance testing of 10 percent of the on-campus population will continue every week throughout the spring semester.

Weekly testing in the fall resulted in a 1.9 percent cumulative positivity rate at all colleges and universities across the state.

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