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Rise of coronavirus cases among Arkansas students, school employees, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | September 1, 2021 at 10:40 a.m.
Kindergarten teacher Kim Crawford helps Ian Lopez with an assignment earlier this month at Clinton Elementary School in Clinton. Teachers are putting in longer hours and dealing with daily frustrations that have some thinking about quitting. More photos at arkansasonline.com/1025covidclass/. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

Active cases of coronavirus among public school students and employees reached an all-time high Monday, according to the health department, as most campuses were starting their third week of classes.

What are case numbers among school districts like?

Since the beginning of August, 7,831 cases of covid-19 among public school employees and students have been reported.

The number of active cases on Aug. 16, when school officially began for most campuses in the state, was 1,347. As of Monday, the health department reported active cases among public school employees and students nearly tripled to 3,911, an all-time high.

How are individual districts affected?

There have already been some shifts to virtual instruction. The third grade at Preston and Florence Mattison Elementary School in the Conway School District shifted Monday to remote instruction for the remainder of this week.

Last Thursday and Friday, sixth graders in the Centerpoint School District went to virtual instruction. The Centerpoint School District implemented a mask mandate on Monday.

As far as case numbers, 186 districts had at least five active cases on Monday. Only 73 districts had at least five active cases Aug. 16, when school began for most.

The Cabot School District has the highest number of active cases on Monday at 140, according to the Health Department. The Fort Smith and Springdale school districts follow with 122 cases of covid-19 each.

Rogers has 105 cases; Bentonville, 104; and Little Rock, 79 active cases among students and employees. Jonesboro has 75 cases, followed by Conway with 71.

Go here to see the full report district by district, from the health department. School systems with fewer than five cases are not listed individually to protect patient identities but their covid-19 numbers are included in the overall totals.

What do experts think will happen next?

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department's chief medical officer, said she worries the start of the school year will lead new cases to escalate again, after hitting a high plateau for the past few weeks.

Last school year, Dillaha said the virus primarily spread in the broader community and then was brought into schools.

This year, Dillaha said she thinks transmission may start in school settings more often, before moving into the broader community. She said this may happen because many schoolchildren are not vaccinated (those under 12 are not eligible), because mask requirements are not in place in every district and because of the highly transmissible delta variant.

Read more about cases at Arkansas schools here and stay up-to-date on all things coronavirus by signing up for our daily newsletter. You can also check out which districts have mask mandates here.

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