EL DORADO -- Covid-19 cases have been on the rise in Arkansas, likely driven by students' return to school last month.
Danyelle McNeill, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health, said it's common for infectious-disease cases to rise when school starts.
"There are a lot of factors that can impact what kind of season we have," she said in an email. "At this time, there is also a slight increase in the circulation of influenza-like illnesses."
According to data compiled by the Health Department, 9,475 new covid-19 cases were identified in Arkansas in August, way up from the 6,871 cases that were found in May, June and July combined.
In Union County, as of Friday, 542 covid-19 cases had been identified so far this year, and five local residents had died as a result of the virus. That's on track to be significantly lower than the 2,500 to 4,000-plus cases reported locally in 2020, 2021 and 2022, but local schools are still taking precautions.
Debbie McAdams, coordinated school health administrator for the El Dorado School District, said the district is encouraging parents to keep sick children home, and will excuse covid illness related absences.
"Schools can be breeding grounds for any illness," she said in an email. "All El Dorado schools will follow the protocol, if a student is sent home with fever, they must be fever free without medication for 24 hours before returning for school."
While the district is no longer required to report covid cases to the Health Department, McAdams said the Wildcat Wellness Center does have the capability to test for covid-19 and other viruses including flu and strep, and can provide covid vaccines to patients.
"The responsibility of parents is very important this school year and every year. If your child is sick, keep them home," McAdams said.
McNeill said updated vaccines, made to combat the latest prevalent strain of the virus, will be available this fall. McAdams said those shots will be available at the Wildcat Wellness Center once they're distributed.
Vaccines are also available for free at the Union County Local Health Unit.
"ADH will bill their insurance, if they have it, but no one will be turned away for inability to pay," McNeill said.
McNeill reiterated McAdams' advice that parents keep sick children home.
"Families can prevent transmission of COVID and other infectious diseases at school by keeping their students home when they are sick," she said.
McAdams also highlighted the importance of good hygiene in preventing the spread of illness.
"Washing hands with soap and water and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze are easy ways to slow the spread of COVID or any virus," she said.
Alexis Jacobs-Jones, director of marketing at South Arkansas Regional Hospital, said the hospital "is fortunate to report low numbers of COVID-19 admissions, reflecting low community transmission levels."