CHARLES TOWN – The same week Jefferson County Schools’ conducted a virtual learning technology drill in case schools were forced to close classrooms again during the pandemic, the school system’s COVID operating status was downgraded two notches.

One more downgrade and all of the school system’s 8,900 students will have to stay home and revert to virtual learning. The buses will stop rolling.

About 3,000 students have voluntarily chosen to stay home throughout the first semester of the school year.

Just last week Jefferson schools operated on the least-restrictive Green status for COVID protocols, one of five color-coded indicators of countywide infection rates that dictate the coronavirus protocols schools must follow.   

On Saturday, the West Virginia Education Department placed Jefferson Schools on a middling Gold status for COVID safety based on the number of known coronavirus infections in the county.

Known coronavirus infections in Jefferson County jumped from 479 to 513, raising the county’s infections above a 10-case threshold per 100,000 residents.

Wearing face masks in schools were previously limited only to group settings and assemblies where physical distancing was difficult. Under the current Gold status signaling an “elevated community transmission,” students in grades 3-12 are required to wear face coverings schools at all times, even in classrooms. Meanwhile, all student group assemblies are canceled, and students will stay in small groups to reduce the possible spread of the virus.

County health officials can also impose additional measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

Dr. Terrence Reidy, the top health official with the county health department, could not be reached for comment.

Currently, athletic games and extra-curricular activities can continue as long as competitions are held against other schools in the county or with other teams in other gold counties.

The Gold status that Jefferson County Schools is following this week is matched by Pendleton, Gilmer, Marshall and Wood counties.

Meanwhile, schools in nearby Berkeley and Morgan counties are operating under virtual learning under an Orange status for a “heightened community transmission.”

On Monday, the Jefferson County Health Department reported that 61 active coronavirus cases were known in the county, including one person who is hospitalized.

Some students at Washington High School had been quarantined after a staff member became infected from an exposure that occurred outside the school.

More than 18,500 coronavirus tests have been given in the county since the outbreak arrived in West Virginia in March, and 525 cases were identified from those tests.

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