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Covid putting some schools back online

by Eplunus Colvin | January 12, 2022 at 3:35 a.m.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

Rising covid cases in Jefferson County have prompted some of the public school districts to temporarily go back to virtual learning.

The White Hall School District released a statement Tuesday saying the district had experienced an increase in covid-19 staff cases, which have impacted the district's ability to adequately staff their campuses, therefore pivoting to Alternate Methods of Instruction (AMI) Days from today through Friday.

The Pine Bluff School District also released a statement that it would switch to AMI Days and reassess by Tuesday if that change will continue.

Schools will be dismissed on Monday, Jan. 17 in observance of Martin Luther King Day and students are scheduled to return to campus on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

The Watson Chapel School District, however, said it schools would remain open for in-person instruction this week while continuing to monitor staff and student attendance.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement released a statement on Monday that a record 226 Arkansas public school districts, or 97% of the state's 234 contiguous school districts, have covid-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period.

Using data from the Arkansas Department of Health, the ACHI made a special update to the covid19 dashboard on its website in response to the accelerated spread of the virus with color codes to signify infection rate groups.

As of Tuesday, the Watson Chapel School District, which is charted in the purple color zone, has 55 active cases with the rates of new known infections for a 14 day period per 10k residents between 100-199.

The Pine Bluff School District has 43 active cases with more than 2% of the local community infected, according to ACHI, and White Hall has 24 active cases with over 2.7% of the local community infected. Both school districts were in the pink color zone.

Both PBSD and WHSD had rates of new known infections for a 14-day period per 10,000 residents of 200 or more.

In the face of the immediate threat posed by the explosion of the omicron variant across Arkansas communities, ACHI recommended the following short-term actions:

• Implementation of masking requirements for all staff and students in all schools across the state.

• Virtual instruction for schools in the purple and pink zones.

• Sheltering in place for seniors, families with unvaccinated children, and families with members who are immunocompromised or at risk because of health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or cancer.

• Suspension of public interactions or implementation of virtual options where possible on the part of municipalities, businesses and houses of worship.

"Because of the highly infectious omicron variant, COVID-19 is raging uncontrolled across our state," said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. "Unfortunately, we need to endure some temporary disruptions in our daily lives so we can stop the virus' spread."

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) updated their guidance for school districts based on CDC guidelines in response to covid-19 on Jan. 6, 2022.

According to DESE, a person should stay home for a least five days if they get covid-19.

After five days with no fever or symptoms for 24 hours, they may return to school.

DESE encourages the wearing of a mask consistently for the next five days.

If a person is exposed to someone with covid-19, the DESE advises them to quarantine for five days if the person is not up-to-date on their covid shots.

According to the updated guidelines, people don't need to quarantine if they've had all their vaccines, including a booster, if that additional shot applies.

Also, people don't need to quarantine if they have had covid-19 in the past 90 days.

Since Arkansas no longer has a special emergency order in effect, schools now have to use their AMI days.

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