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Groups urge masks in Arkansas schools as virus cases grow

face_masks_in_schools-KUT.jpg
Jordan Vonderhaar
/
KUT
Students wearing masks on the first day of school in August at Travis High School in Austin, Texas.

Groups representing Arkansas’ pediatricians and teachers called for more school districts to require face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus Monday, as the state’s virus cases and hospitalizations continued to grow.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, meanwhile, said the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate in the last seven days hit a new high of 23.8%.

“We expect record-high new cases this week, so while we continue to work and live, get fully vaccinated and protect yourself and your community,” Hutchinson tweeted.

Dozens of Arkansas school districts required masks after a state judge in August blocked a law preventing mask mandates by government entities, but many loosened their restrictions as case numbers eased in the fall. The same judge last week struck down the ban on mask mandates.

“As students come back during the Omicron surge, we need to see the successful strategies that worked last year reinstated, as some schools relaxed these policies in the fall,” Dr. Susan Averitt, president of the Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said. “Measures like school-wide mask requirements and encouraging vaccination will help keep kids in the classroom, where they can learn, play, and grow.”

The Arkansas Education Association said “it is vital that school boards consider and follow the expert medical advice of our health professionals given the situation on the ground.”

The state Health Department reported 1,750 new coronavirus cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 574,572. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 39 to 722 and deaths increased by 25 to 9,221.

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