More than 600 Arkansans have died from COVID-19 as K-12 students prepare to go back to school in one week.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state saw 412 new coronavirus cases Monday bringing the state’s total to 53,077. An additional four Arkansans died from COVID-19 for a death toll of 603.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson voiced his displeasure with a letter from the Little Rock Education Association teachers’ union calling for an online-only start to the new school year.
"I'm disappointed that the union here in Little Rock has indicated that they're pushing teachers not to show up on the first day of class if they're assigned to in-classroom instruction," Hutchinson said. "I do not believe it's helpful for the students and that it doesn't recognize the steps that have been taken to protect both teachers, staff and the students."
Arkansas currently requires schools to be open for in-class instruction five days a week, though students can opt to take virtual classes. Schools in the state are set to reopen between Aug. 24 and 26. Hutchinson also responded to concerns that out-of-state college students who test positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of classes won’t be included in the state’s official tally of coronavirus cases.
"That actually makes sense to me because if they're coming here, obviously if they test positive within the first couple weeks, it indicates they acquired the virus from their previous state. And then after that it should be counted here in the state statistics," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also said the state has received 1,200 testing kits used to complete point-of-care antigen testing for the coronavirus.
Earlier Monday, Hutchinson and state health and education officials met for a roundtable discussion with Dr. Deborah Birx, who currently serves as Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Speaking with reporters at the Governor’s Mansion, Birx said she would have liked to see stronger restrictions at the outset of the pandemic.
"I wish that when we went into lockdown, we looked like Italy. But when Italy locked down, I mean, people weren’t allowed out of their houses," Birx said. "Americans don’t react well to that kind of prohibition."
Birx emphasized the importance of avoiding both indoor and outdoor social gatherings, saying nationwide case growth is currently being driven largely as a result of parties held by groups of friends family members. Birx also said she would support Arkansas implementing a system of reporting how many teachers, students and employees of individual schools or school districts have tested positive.
School district-level coronavirus data is available on the website of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, but it does not provide specific numbers of school-related coronavirus cases; instead, the number of overall cases within an individual school district.
The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by eight to 486 on Monday while the number of patients on a ventilator was unchanged at 120. As of Monday Arkansas had 6,341 active COVID-19 cases, including 38 nursing home residents and 994 inmates of correctional facilities. Pulaski County added 54 new cases while 21 more residents of Sebastian County tested positive.