West Virginia teachers and other school employees will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination Thursday as Gov. Jim Justice is beginning to reopen most public schools for in-person classes.
The West Virginia Department of Education will distribute information on where and when each employee can receive the vaccine directly to the superintendents of each county, the governor’s office said.
Justice’s announcement came after the governor altered the state’s color-coded system for counties, which determines when schools can reopen. Under the less restrictive system, the state will reopen all elementary and middle schools and most high schools Jan. 19.
West Virginia’s color-coded system categorizes each county by a specific color decided by the current spread of COVID-19 and the positivity rate. Counties are ranked by the most safe to least safe, ranging from green to yellow, gold, orange and then red. Under the new rules, only high schools located in red counties will be banned from opening for in-person classes. All other schools will reopen.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
With the low transmission rates in West Virginia schools, Justice said it is safe to reopen as long as schools are following guidelines.
“We have got to get our kids back in school,” Justice said in a statement. “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.”
Justice also announced a new COVID-19 vaccine information phone line. The line operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. West Virginians can call 1-833-734-0965 for information.
“It will serve as a point of reference for West Virginians seeking information on COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination timelines, and any other questions about the vaccines,” Justice said. “We also have a lot of information online, and our partners use a whole variety of methods for getting this information out to you – like social media, radio, television, and newspapers.”
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