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ACHI asks schools to require masks and consider virtual learning as COVID numbers spike

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement is asking schools to consider virtual learning as cases of omicron surge throughout the state.
Credit: Halfpoint - stock.adobe.com

ARKANSAS, USA — Across Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley, four school districts are currently requiring face masks. However, as we head into another week of possible record-breaking COVID-19 cases, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) is urging schools to consider virtual learning as well.

“We have the greatest increase in the number of red and purple districts we have ever observed from last week to this week,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. 

The number of red and purple districts growing by over 100.

In Fort Smith Schools, cases jumped from 22 active cases to 114 active cases in three days.

During a virtual meeting Thursday, Jan., 6, Dr. Joe Thompson with the ACHI says this is concerning.

“So, this represents within the schools the threat that is coming into our schools now because potential student infections and staff infections,” Dr. Thompson said.

So far across the area, Fayetteville, Farmington, Paris and Hope Academy NWA are the only school districts with a full mask requirement in place, according to ACHI.

“That’s why we called yesterday for local school boards to take action to put mandatory masking in place and prepare to do virtual programming if not for the next week for the next 10 days,” Dr. Thompson said.

However, how schools pivot to virtual learning is different this year because the state no longer has a special emergency order in effect.

Kimberly Mindel with the Arkansas Department of Education says schools have two options. 

"They can quickly modify to virtual instruction if they need to, but if it's going to be a school-wide or a district-wide modification they have to use one of their ten alternative methods of instruction," Mindel said. 

Or they will have to shut down.

Governor Asa Hutchinson is asking the district to put mitigation efforts in place that fit their needs. He’s hoping this surge will quickly pass.

“I’m hoping that January is going to put us through this. We just got to get through January," Hutchinson said.

The Arkansas Department of Education updated isolation times in its new guidelines for people who test positive for the virus.

A person should stay home for a least five days if they get COVID-19. From that point, if you start to feel better after five days with no fever or symptoms then you may return to school.

You are also encouraged to wear a mask consistently for five more days when you go back to school, but Arkansas does not have a mask mandate, so it's up to the district to decide whether they're necessary.

Another important thing to note is that quarantine is different from isolation.

A person will be asked to quarantine when they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.

You're also asked to quarantine for five days if you're not up-to-date on your COVID shots, but you don't need to quarantine if you've had all your vaccines, including a booster if you're eligible.

Also, you don't need to quarantine if you had COVID-19 in the past 90 days.

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