State Boosting Access To Online Learning As Arkansas Records Fifth-Highest COVID-19 Uptick

Jul 27, 2020

A graphic details a $10 million project to provide greater access to high-speed internet to Arkansas students ahead of the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

More than 4,200 Arkansans have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past five days as the state’s total number of cases nears 40,000.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday the state saw 824 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 39,447. An additional seven Arkansans have died from COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 408.

Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson announced $10 million in federal funds will go toward providing take-home WiFi access points to students once the school year begins.

“It will provide about 20,000 devices, and it will also provide 24 months of data, and all of this will be free of cost to the families and to the students,” Hutchinson said. “The two vendors agreed to extend the same pricing structure to the districts if they decide to expand beyond the devices that are available to them, and this will be allocated to the school districts based upon their… student population.”

The access points will provide unlimited data for two years at a cost of about $20 per month per device. Hutchinson said individual school districts will choose which vendor will supply the devices, which will use cellular signals to provide high-speed internet access for students choosing to attend classes online. He said the state has already contracted with wireless providers AT&T and T-Mobile on the program, and hopes to add a third vendor before the rollout. 

A graph displays the number of new coronavirus cases in Arkansas.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Education Secretary Johnny Key said, with less than a month before K-12 students are set to return to class, the state Education Department will spend $1 million to form a stockpile of personal protective equipment like gloves and face masks.

“The challenge is, for how long… is it for the first nine weeks, is it for the first semester? But it's also a balance of knowing how many students are going to come on-site, how many students are going to opt for virtual,” Key said. “In the feedback that we've been getting from superintendents, we felt like it would be worthwhile to have this reserve to help them in case their estimates might prove to be off or if they ran into supply chain issues.”

Schools in Arkansas are currently set to resume classes between Aug. 24 and 26.

A graph displays the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Arkansas.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by nine Monday to 489, with 110 patients on a ventilator. Pulaski County saw the highest increase in new cases with 120 residents testing positive, while there were 62 new cases in Washington County and 46 in Craighead County.

As of Monday Arkansas had 6,674 active COVID-19 cases, including 81 nursing home residents and 294 inmates of correctional facilities.

Acting Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said the Health Department has purchased 200 point-of-care machines for hospitals in an effort to shorten the time between testing and beginning to notify those who may have been exposed to a COVID-19 patient.

A graph displays the number of active COVID-19 cases in Arkansas.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

“We will require that those results be transmitted to the Health Department quickly because it is point-of-care testing… those will go into that big, if you will, bucket of contact tracing. We'll be able to act on those much more quickly I hope,” Romero said. “We’re trying to decrease our time from positive test to beginning contact tracing. We will get better.”

Hutchinson said he’s optimistic members of the Arkansas Legislative Council will approve $7 million for COVID-19 outreach to Latinx and Marshallese communities on Tuesday after opting not to consider the proposal last week.

“There always can be a backup plan. The problem with backup plans is that it backs you up. We're in a pandemic, we’re in an emergency and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] talked about the urgency of it,” Hutchinson said. “There is an urgency of getting these resources out quickly and so any delay is a delay in putting the resources into place.”