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Day's cases at 596 as virus tallies rise

Governor set to talk winter strategy by Cynthia Howell, Jaime Adame, John Moritz | September 22, 2020 at 7:29 a.m.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19. - Photo by NIAID-RML via AP

Most of the metrics used to track the spread of coronavirus saw incremental increases Monday, as Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced plans to brief the state on preparations as the pandemic heads into winter.

Arkansas health officials reported 596 new cases of coronavirus Monday, on top of 45 new probable cases that resulted from either positive antigen test results or known contact with an infected person.

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The Arkansas Department of Health, which began reporting both likely and confirmed cases of the virus more than a week ago, has now registered a total of 76,364 cases since the pandemic reached the state in March.

The virus's confirmed death toll in Arkansas rose by 15 on Monday, to 1,048. The Health Department also reported an additional probable death, for a total of 149.

The number of active cases -- those in which a person with the virus has not recovered or died -- rose by 21, to 6,706.

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Active cases similarly jumped at public schools, with 138 new active cases reported since Thursday, for a total of 748. The number of active cases at colleges and universities, however, has declined since Thursday, dropping from 785 to 701, according to the Arkansas Department of Health's latest education institutions report that is posted every Monday and Thursday.

The state agency report came out on a day in which two small school districts -- Hackett and Buffalo Island Central -- and two large high schools -- Little Rock Southwest and Lonoke High -- moved to all-virtual instruction for several days.

Hospitalizations, meanwhile, grew by 35 to reach 447. Another 12 patients were placed on ventilators, for a total of 97.

Hutchinson, who is scheduled to deliver a weekly news conference on the virus today, said the state is on track to meet its goal for both antigen and lab-confirmed tests in September.

"The Arkansas Department of Health continues to do outstanding work in identifying and tracing COVID-19 cases across the state," the governor said in a news release. "Tomorrow, I will talk about what we should do to prepare for the winter and discuss the latest White House report."

The White House coronavirus task force issues a weekly report.

The Health Department reported that a total of 7,657 lab-confirmed polymerase (PCR) tests had been reported Monday, in addition to results from 253 antigen tests.

Positive antigen test results are considered probable cases by the Health Department until they are confirmed by further testing.

In an email to reporters Monday, as well as in a statement published on social media, the governor pegged the number of new cases at 616. That number was reached, his office said, by adding the number of new confirmed cases with the 20 antigen test results that came up positive Monday, rather than with the total number of new cases deemed probable using broader criteria.

SCHOOLS REPORT CASES

Leaders in the Little Rock School District announced Monday that Southwest High -- which was closed Monday for both virtual and on-site learners -- will provide virtual instruction to all ninth through 12th grade students for the remainder of this week.

Additionally, Gibbs Magnet Elementary School's fifth grade class in the Little Rock district has transitioned to all virtual instruction through Sept. 30.

The district reported three new covid cases and another 31 employees and students under quarantine on Monday. The district posts its covid cases and quarantine numbers daily.

Two of the new positive covid cases were at Gibbs and one at Southwest High. Seven employees and 10 children are quarantined from Gibbs. Three employees at Brady Elementary and one at Pinnacle View Middle were quarantined, as were nine pupils at Brady Elementary and one pupil at Roberts Elementary.

Little Rock Southwest was closed Monday to both virtual and on-site students to allow for cleaning and for identification of those who had had close contact with people who have been diagnosed with covid.

The new covid case reported Monday at Southwest brings to eight the number of cases at Southwest since Sept. 14.

The school will provide only virtual instruction to students for the remainder of this week, the district announced Monday afternoon.

"The Arkansas Department of Health and the Little Rock School District met today to determine the appropriate response to covid cases at Little Rock Southwest High School. It has been determined that cases at the school are related to athletics, and we have not seen any community transmission through classrooms. Because these exposures have significantly impacted our staffing numbers, LRSD believes the most responsible approach is to move in-person instruction at the school to virtual instruction for the remainder of this week," the statement said.

The district will provide computer devices today and Wednesday to those students who have been attending classes on campus.

Parents whose last names begin with A-M can pick up devices starting at 12:30 p.m. today. For parents whose last names begin with N-Z and have an in-person learner, devices may be picked up Wednesday morning.

All Southwest classified employees and staff who are not teachers are to report to work today unless they are quarantined.

A decision about returning to on-campus instruction at Southwest for next week will be made by Sunday.

As previously announced, all Southwest athletic and extracurricular events are canceled this week.

Elsewhere in Pulaski County, Fatih Bogrek, superintendent of the LISA Academy charter school system, said that on-site fourth- and fifth-graders at the system's LISA Academy North Elementary School will shift to remote instruction for up to two weeks as the result of a positive covid case at the school.

Lonoke High School will transition from on-campus learning to all virtual or off-campus learning beginning today through Sept. 30 because of the number of teaching staff who have been quarantined -- at least six, according to a statement from Superintendent John Tackett on the Lonoke district's website.

All of the roughly 525 students at Lonoke High School should plan on working virtually from home during the given time frame, Tackett said. However, there will be a virtual hub set up at the high school for students who have extenuating circumstances that require them to attend on-campus learning, he also said. The high school will reopen for on-campus learning Oct. 1.

Lonoke School District in-season sports will continue as scheduled unless affected by quarantine.

The Monday announcement calling for the shift to virtual instruction comes after last week's announcement that 45 junior high volleyball student-athletes, 10 middle school students and 24 high school students were to be quarantined until Oct. 1.

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Additionally, possible exposure to the virus by transportation staff resulted in two temporarily discontinued bus routes. Directions were given to students who rode those buses to plan to do their school work virtually unless they have parents able to transport them to and from school. Those routes will resume Oct. 2.

The 740-student Hackett School District, located south of Fort Smith, has transitioned to virtual instruction at all grades for this week after at least eight staff and students have been diagnosed with the virus, and several dozen others quarantined as the result of exposure.

"We are still having school this week, but it is through a virtual means," Superintendent Edward Ray posted on the district's website. "Unless already contacted, no sports teams or organizations are restricted from practicing, performing and competing," he said.

Football, however, has been affected.

"As of this moment, high school football is the only activity, group or team restricted from all group practices and competitions," Ray wrote.

The school system leaders planned for the campuses to be cleaned and sanitized Monday. Teachers will report to campus today to conduct online and telephone parent conferences as was scheduled previously. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, all staff will report to work and conduct instruction through the Google Classroom platform.

"We will reassess the need to continue virtual instruction on Friday and make announcements no later than Sunday afternoon," Ray said, adding that the information will be distributed as soon as possible but will be subject to change in the event of new information.

The 730-student Buffalo Island Central, based in Monette east of Jonesboro, is shifting to virtual learning for all students in kindergarten through 12th grades, starting today through Friday, according to the district's website.

On-site instruction at the district's two campuses will resume Monday.

COLLEGES CASES

Active covid-19 cases at colleges and universities fell to 701, according to Monday's statewide educational institutions report. The total dipped compared with Thursday's biweekly report, which listed 785 active cases at colleges and universities.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, which has more than 27,000 students, continues to top all other institutions in active cases, but the number fell to 324 from 460.

Separately, UA-Fayetteville reported on its website 127 active cases as of Sunday, down from 287 cases considered active on Thursday. The 127 total includes 123 students, three staffers and one faculty member.

The university reported 31 new positive cases identified since an update published Friday.

Cases are removed from UA's active count after 10 days have passed since the testing dates, a university spokesman has said.

On-campus testing totals for the seven-day period ending Sunday increased to 1,197, up from the 874 tests done in the previous seven-day period. The positivity rate over the most recent seven days cannot be calculated because test results remain pending.

UA-Fayetteville's on-campus testing totals include students participating in athletics. These students may be tested multiple times each week as part of Southeastern Conference protocols.

Among other schools, the statewide report listed an increase of cases at the University of Central Arkansas. Active cases increased to 64, the second-most of any college or university, up from a total of 53 reported Thursday.

VIRUS-RELATED DEATHS

Garry Thomas, 69, of Pine Bluff, died Saturday in the intensive care unit of Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, according to a report from the Jefferson County coroner.

Thomas was admitted to the hospital Sept. 13 with a fever and shortness of breath. He was then diagnosed with covid-19. He later passed away from cardiorespiratory arrest from covid-19, according to the coroner's report.

Freddie Thomas, 87, died Monday at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock, where she had been transferred earlier this month while undergoing treatment for covid-19 at the Medical Center of South Arkansas, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.

The resident of Lapile Township had been diagnosed with the virus on Aug. 8, according to coroner's records.

Patsy Bacon, 73 of White Hall, died Thursday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center, where she had been admitted four days before after experiencing shortness of breath following a positive test, according to her husband Carl Bacon.

"Her oxygen level was really low when I carried her to the hospital that Monday," Carl Bacon said Monday.

He recalled that his wife of 41 years loved quilting, knitting and "all kinds of crafts." Patsy Bacon was a retired bookkeeper and cashier who had worked more than 20 years at the Mad Butcher in Pine Bluff.

The couple often enjoyed camping along Arkansas' Bull Shoals Lake and Little Red River, he said.

"She just loved life, but she could not handle the covid," he said.

Information for this article was contributed by Jeannie Roberts of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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