CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday that marching bands will be allowed to perform at public school football games amid the coronavirus pandemic, reversing a governing body's ruling from a day earlier.
The Republican governor said the Secondary School Activities Commission's earlier decision was made without his input.
“As a coach and someone who is in our schools all the time, I appreciate how much our extracurricular activities, including our marching bands, mean to our students, parents, and communities," Justice said in a statement.
Justice said he directed medical experts to work with the SSAC and the state Department of Education to “go back to the drawing board to find a safe way for our marching bands to do what they love to do: perform.”
The plan will require band members to maintain social distances while performing in stadiums on game days. Their families will be allowed to watch their performances.
Tammy Winters said the word spread fast Tuesday afternoon at Spring Valley High School, where her daughter is the field commander for the marching band.
“I just dropped my daughter off at band practice,” Winters said. “There were a lot of kids, like, yelping in there. Some happy band kids today.”
The SSAC's earlier decision had caused such an uproar that a protest was being organized at the state Capitol in Charleston on Friday. Parents had argued that if football players could collide on the field, band members should be allowed there as well.
Marching bands already had lost their competition season, wiped out by the virus, as well as opportunities to perform at now-canceled fall festivals.
Justice's reversal came as the state's death toll from the coronavirus climbed by eight Tuesday, including three more in Logan County. It brings the state's total to 187 since the pandemic began. The number of deaths statewide has risen 61% since Aug. 1.
Logan County, which has a population of about 32,000, has reported eight deaths since Saturday, all involving residents ages 65 and older, according to figures from the Department of Health and Human Resources.
The county now has 20 virus-related deaths, which ranks third in the state behind only Kanawha (27) and Mercer (21) counties.
The number of cases in Logan County has more than tripled to 446 from 137 on Aug. 1. Its 200 active cases are second to Kanawha's 323. Much of the rise is due to a virus outbreak at the Trinity Health Care nursing home in Logan, where at least 87 residents and 55 staff members have tested positive.
The state has issued a color-coded county map for thresholds for in-person attendance and extracurricular activities at schools and allowing visits to nursing homes.
The virus usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms, but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with other health problems.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.