Fort Smith Public Schools to go virtual; COVID cases continue to rise in Sebastian County

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,056 views 

With 122 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday, Sebastian County’s total active cases of the virus rose to 828. Because of the number of people needing to quarantine because of the virus, Fort Smith Public Schools will be entirely virtual Friday (Nov. 20), Monday and Tuesday.

As of Nov. 16, there had been 402 cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the Fort Smith Public School district. Of those, 286 were students and 103 were faculty and staff. There were 76 active cases.

“We don’t have a lot of positive active cases, but we do have a number of people in quarantine,” said Zena Featherston Marshall, FSPS executive director of communications and community partnership.

Because the district cannot provide all students supervision and services, the FSPS will pivot to online instruction Friday, Marshall said. Students who are participating in the FSPS Virtual Learning Option will continue their ongoing work in the Pearson Connexus learning platform, the district’s website states. Students who are attending on-site instruction at their schools will use their school’s online learning platform to access lessons and assignments for Nov. 20, 23 and 24. The district had already scheduled on-line learning days for Monday and Tuesday. Pre-K students will attend school and will follow a regular schedule.

“All Fort Smith Public Schools teachers and staff will report to work in their buildings and classrooms on Friday and may work from home as scheduled on Monday and Tuesday. Teachers and staff may bring their children with them to the school building if they can adequately supervise them through the work day,” the website states.

Grab-and-go meals will be served at all schools. Students can pick up meals, as well as breakfast for the next day, at any school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day.

There were 70 hospitalized in Fort Smith hospitals with COVID Thursday with 14 of those on ventilators, said Rep. Dr. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood. Johnson is also the medical director for Fort Smith EMS and Southwest EMS and an emergency room physician. Johnson said this was down from Monday when there were 86 in the two hospitals with 20 on ventilators.

With Thanksgiving next week, city leaders are spreading words of caution in hopes of keeping the virus spread to a minimum.

“I think the biggest concern for spread during the holidays is large family gatherings. I know we’re all tired of COVID and all of us draw comfort from traditional holiday festivities, but we need to be diligent about limiting numbers and minding precautions,” Johnson said.

He said social distancing and wearing masks should not be forgotten at gatherings that include family and friends from outside the household.

“We need to be especially thoughtful about the elderly and medically fragile in planning any get-togethers,” he said. “If the weather allows, outdoor activities are markedly better than indoor activities.”

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