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Covid cases rise at Arkansas public schools

Active infections increase from 238 to 290 over three days by Jaime Adame | April 24, 2021 at 8:51 a.m.
Fifth grade teacher Anna Mask straightens out desks in her classroom that have been socially distanced for students while preparing for the start of school at Williams Magnet Elementary School on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Active cases of covid-19 in the state's public school districts increased by about 22% over a three-day period that ended Thursday, according to the most recent state Department of Health data.

The total of 290 active cases jumped from the 238 cases reported as of Monday, according to Health Department reports. Case totals in schools are released twice weekly, typically on Mondays and Thursdays.

The number of active cases remains below that seen just before the week of spring break. A Health Department report dated March 18 listed 302 active covid-19 cases among students and staff in public school districts.

Some public school districts in the state have held on-campus vaccination clinics for students, as individuals 16 and older are eligible to receive the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine.

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The state Department of Health does not formally keep track of how many student clinics have been held for high school students, but the department is encouraging schools to host such clinics, spokeswoman Danyelle McNeill said in email.

"We are ready to help with whatever vaccine is needed and can help if a local provider cannot be found to help the school do the events," McNeill said. She said that most often, school districts have worked with local pharmacies or health clinics to conduct the on-site vaccination events.

The Bentonville School District has vaccinated 397 students at two such clinics held at different district high schools, said Leslee Wright, the district's communications director.

The most recent Health Department report, dated Thursday, listed the Cabot School District as having the most active cases of covid-19. The central Arkansas school district had 23 active cases, up from 20 cases listed in Monday's report.

Despite the rising cases, "we have not had any programming changes or modifications to our flexible face covering policy," Superintendent Tony Thurman said in an email Friday.

Face coverings became optional April 2 at Cabot schools, according to the district's website, but a masking requirement can be reinstated by the superintendent, in consultation with the district's School Board, if a school's covid-19 positivity rate increases.

The Springdale School District had the second-most active cases, with 15, the same amount as listed Monday. The Rogers School District ranked third with 14 active cases, up from 10 as listed in Monday's report.

The report Thursday listed 17 school districts with five or more active cases of covid-19, up from the 13 school districts listed in Monday's report.

Cases in the state's colleges and universities also increased during the week, rising to 82 from 76 over the same three-day period that ended Thursday.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville topped all colleges with 19 active cases, followed by Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, each listed as having seven active cases in Thursday's report.

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