Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday (Aug. 19) responded to estimates that returning students to in-class instruction will boost new COVID-19 cases, saying a UAMS report “ignores the reality and the importance” of providing the “best education under these circumstances.”
New COVID-19 modeling published Aug. 18 by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences estimates daily infections will be “significantly lower” by Oct. 6 if public schools open with virtual learning only. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said schools will open Aug. 24 with in-class instruction. The modeling update based on numbers as of Aug. 14, predicts 3,000 new daily infections by Oct. 6 with virtual learning only, 5,500 daily infections with a hybrid of virtual and in-class instruction, and 8,000 daily infections if all classes are in person.
Gov. Hutchinson said the UAMS infection estimates are “not helpful” because the method of modeling does not track with what the state is able to measure. He likened the UAMS report on a reduced number of cases with virtual learning as to there being a lower number of cases if everyone was ordered to stay at home.
“To me, that’s like saying if we sheltered in place, we’d reduce the number of cases that we had. Which is true. But we don’t shelter in place because there is essential things that have to be done in our society. The same thing is true with education. Obviously, you reduce risk if you all stayed at home, but we have do education. The best way to do education is in-classroom instruction, but we’re providing a virtual option,” Gov. Hutchinson said during his daily COVID briefing.
Opening public schools as mandated by Gov. Hutchinson will return hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and staff to more than 1,000 school facilities in the state. During the 2019-2020 school year, the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) reported 479,432 K-12 students, 33,399 teachers and 36,274 staff.
Arkansas Education Association President Carol Fleming has said it is not safe for schools to open to in-class instruction. She said schools should open the 2020-2021 school year with virtual learning only. Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, and Randi House, a kindergarten teacher in Conway and the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, also have asked Gov. Hutchinson to not open schools to in-class instruction.
COLLEGE TOWNS, NEW COVID CASES
Michael Moore, the regulatory administrator for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration who manages the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, Racing Commission, Medical Marijuana Commission and Tobacco Control Division, said the state has conducted 1,210 inspections of bars, restaurants and other businesses under their authority. Of those, only 113 were found in violation, and of those, only 17% received an “administrative citation.”
The establishments are required to ensure employees and customers wear face masks, practice social distancing and meet other Arkansas Department of Health guidelines. Moore said inspectors will in the next few weeks focus on college towns as students gather to begin classes.
“We’re going to pay special attention to those areas [college towns] and want to encourage those folks to practice the social distancing, wearing of masks, the washing of their hands very often,” Moore said, adding that residents “can’t let up,” as the number of new cases appears to trend lower.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 54,216 on Wednesday, up from 53,487 on Tuesday, with 6,025 test results from the previous 24 hours. Of the 729 new cases, 76 were from correctional facilities. There are 5,919 active cases.
The number of deaths rose from 619 to 631. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 499 on Wednesday, up from 492 on Tuesday. There are 114 patients on ventilators, down from 122 on Tuesday. There are 47,666 cumulative recovered cases.
The top five counties with new known cases were: Pulaski (65), Jefferson (56), Sebastian (52), Craighead (33), and Washington (32). The five counties accounted for 36.4% of the 653 new community cases.
As of Wednesday at 1 p.m., there were 5,505,074 U.S. cases and 172,418 deaths. Globally, there were 22,218,441 cases and 782,883 deaths.