Gov. Asa Hutchinson said all Arkansas schools will close on-site instruction by Tuesday (March 17) for the rest of the week and the week after in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Hutchinson made the announcement on Sunday (March 15) in a Little Rock press conference where he also disclosed that four new in-state cases of coronavirus have been confirmed – two of which are in Garland County – bringing the state’s total known cases to 16.
Of the four new cases, two are related to the original Pine Bluff patient who was the first person confirmed to have contracted coronavirus. The other two new cases in Garland County apparently were infected by out-of-state travel. They are not being hospitalized and no children are involved in the illness. To date, there are known coronavirus patients and contacts with those patients in Jefferson, Pulaski, Saline, Grant and Garland counties.
The school closing decision makes school optional on Monday (March 16) for education officials and parents who may need time to plan for the closures. Tuesday’s closure is mandatory and will remain in effect through March 30th “unless circumstances dictate otherwise,” Hutchinson said.
The governor and education officials suggested there can be off-site instruction during this time and they expect normal school routines to resume on March 30 after public schools return from Spring Break. The closings do not apply to daycare facilities, but they are encouraged to consider it. Some daycare facilities that are on public school campuses will close.
Gov. Hutchinson also announced that the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Arkansas Department of Health have been ramping up their testing capabilities. Today, they can conduct 40 coronavirus tests per day. By week’s end, they expect to be able to conduct 440 tests daily. The health department expects its capacity to grow to 200 per day, while UAMS will be able to handle 240 tests per day.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge joined Hutchinson to warn citizens to report price gouging in their communities to her office. She said price gouging laws are in effect and will continue for the next 30 days, if not longer. Rutledge warned retailers and individuals to guard against price gouging noting that penalties are steep, as much as $10,000 per violation.
Hutchinson also asked citizens to avoid hoarding goods, such as toilet paper and protective masks, in their shopping habits during the crisis.