West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Bernie Dolan, executive director of the state’s Second School Activities Commission (WVSSAC), announced dates for high school athletics statistics Friday afternoon, July 10, despite serious spikes in West Virginia’s COVID-19 statistics.

Practice schedules and game/competition dates vary by sport and guidelines and health safety protocols will be put into place as well. Golf will be the first sport on the reentry schedule, according to Justice, because it is the sport with the least amount of personal contact and because social distancing will be easier to maintain. The following dates are those that have been slated by the WVSSAC:

■ Fall sports practices will begin Aug. 17 to coincide with the school start date;

■ Golf season competitions begin Aug. 24;

■ Volleyball, cheer, cross country and soccer competitions begin Sept. 2; and  

■ Football games will begin Sept. 3.

Justice announced, earlier this week, that the opening date of schools in West Virginia would be pushed back to Sept. 8. Because of regulations requiring practice dates to be determined in accordance with the school calendar, practice schedules could not be slated until a school reentry plan was developed.

Justice and Dolan said guidelines for face coverings, social distancing and crowd capacity will also be established for spectators.

“It will be up to the public to determine if they want sports back in the schools,” Justice said referring to the protocols that will be established for fans at the games.

The sports dates came after Justice issued strong warnings about upturns in the numbers used to determine the safety the “West Virginia Strong: The Comeback” reopening plan.

While the state’s mortality rate still stands at 95 deaths with no new deaths in five days, Justice said the United States set a record high on Thursday with 60,000 COVID positive cases being identified. West Virginia only accounted for 130 of those cases; however, the state’s daily positive results stood at 3.86 percent. In the recent past, that number had been holding consistently below 1 percent.

Justice said the R-T or R0 (the rate of transmission of the virus from person to person) was the second highest in the nation at 1.36 percent. West Virginia COVID-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh updated that statistic only minutes later saying he was given a new report during the press briefing that now lists the state’s R-T rate as 1.37 giving West Virginia the highest transmission rate in the country.

“We have held the reigns back on imposing penalties on people not wearing masks,” Justice said. “I trust in you West Virginians. I know you are honorable and are really, really good people. We are making great strides and we are doing better. But, we have got to be nearly flawless.”

Justice issued a mandatory mask executive order which became effective at midnight Tuesday. Similar policies are in place in 24 other states including several of West Virginia’s bordering states. Residents violating the order in Ohio are subject to misdemeanor fines. Kentucky is set to require masks as of 5 p.m. today.

In West Virginia, the order is for indoor public places including retail outlets, entertainment venues and churches. Neighboring Kentucky’s orders will require the same; however, the mandate there will also extend to outdoor public places as well.

“Wearing a mask is the only bullet I have in the gun to stop this thing,” Justice said. “The only other bullet is a pullback on the reentry program. That is the last thing on Earth I want to do, but we have got to wear our masks. I need you West Virginia and I need you right now. This is absolutely imperative.”

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