School opening may require ‘adjustments along the way’; COVID-19 deaths rise to 475

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 720 views 

With known COVID-19 cases and deaths continuing to rise, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (Aug. 3) reiterated his focus on opening schools later this month, saying he will be flexible and make “adjustments along the way” where necessary.

Part of the school opening will see the 200 BD Veritor antigen testing kits ordered by the Arkansas Department of Public Health placed at public health units around the state with a focus on quick testing for students, teachers and others in public schools, Gov. Hutchinson said Monday. He said 100 of the machines are delivered, with the remainder “pledged by the middle of the month.”

Opening schools 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.

When asked if he had a “redline” or any other trigger that would cause a change in school opening plans, Gov. Hutchinson said his plan is to open schools during the week of Aug. 24 and be flexible after that.

“It’s difficult for a state like Arkansas to say, ‘We’re going to open here and there, and others are just going to be virtual.’ And then you have a lot of issues that go along with that. So I want our state to be able to move, at least at the beginning, all together in classroom instruction. If we have to adapt and adjust from that down the road, we’ll adjust with the circumstances that we find ourselves in,” the governor said.

The Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has said it opposes a blanket opening of all schools, and Arkansas Education Association Executive Director Tracey-Ann Nelson has said the move to open schools pushes students and educators into an “unsafe situation.”

Interim Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero on Monday encouraged Arkansans to get the flu vaccine in order to avoid a potential heavy load on hospitals and medical resources.

“This year, I want to stress the importance of influenza vaccine for everyone. The reason why is that there are a significant number of deaths each year from influenza. We don’t know what the confluence of influenza infection and COVID will be. Will that lead to increased mortality, morbidity? We know that there is a press on our emergency rooms during influenza season. One way to decompress that is to try to get people immunized against it,” Romero said.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 44,597 on Monday, up from 43,810 on Sunday. Of the 787 new cases, 6 were from correctional facilities. There are 6,882 active cases. The number of deaths rose from 464 to 475. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 513 on Monday, down from 515 on Sunday. There are 108 patients on ventilators, up from 106 on Sunday. There are 37,240 cumulative recovered cases.

The top five counties with new cases reported were: Sebastian (87), Washington (66), Pulaski (54), Benton (42), and Logan (37). The counties accounted for 36.6% of the new 781 community cases reported Monday.

As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 4,687,828 U.S. cases and 155,062 deaths. Globally, there were 18,147,574 cases and 690,573 deaths.