Arkansas added over 500 new coronavirus cases Thursday as the start date for schools is set for Monday, fewer than five days away.
The state saw 549 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 54,765. Of those total cases, 5,666 are considered active according to the state Department of Health.
The number of hospitalizations in the state neither increased nor decreased, staying the same at 499. 10 more Arkansans have died from the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 641.
The state reported 6,898 tests over the past 24 hours. The state also recorded a cumulative total of 10,358 antigen tests.
Speaking during the daily briefing on the pandemic today (Wednesday), Health Secretary Dr. José Romero spoke on the importance of quarantining when you get a COVID-19 test, even if that test returns as negative.
"It only means that the virus has decided to make enough of itself so that we can detect it. So if I test today, and I had been exposed five days beforehand, that does not meant that I’ve not been infected," Romero said.
The Arkansas Department of Education expects it schools to follow their respective reopening plans, despite how many COVID-19 cases are in their community as classes are set to resume in fewer than five days.
During the state’s daily briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, the Arkansas Center For Health Improvement, which has partnered with various state agencies, including the state Department of Education, revealed new data that rates the amount of risk of COVID-19 in each school district.
The tool, which is an expansion of its previous tracking mechanism, which tracked the number of cumulative and active cases per district, looks at cases recorded in the past 14 days and then tiered those cases by "risk factors"
The tiers go up from 0-9 cases per 10,000 population to as high as 50 or more per 10,000 population. According to the data itself, 19 school districts have more than 50 cases per 10 thousand people.
Dr. Joe Thompson, president of ACHI said this tool should not be used as a “indicator” for any active decision from a school to change its methods.
"It is a tiered risk indicator so that school districts can know, am I in a school district that I’m in a low risk situation, or am I in a school district that I’m in a high risk situation," Thompson said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke on new data available from ACHI.
"They’re able to show the trends for the cases. So they can see are they going up or going down. And then, they’re going to be breaking down…they’re showing the tests and the level of testing. Not the school district level, but the county level," Hutchinson said.
In accordance with this new tool, the Department of Education released a companion guide that gives advice as to how school districts could take action depending on their tiered risk level.
While a school district could be in a “high risk” tier, Secretary of Education Johnny Key said that does not mean schools should shift their existing plans to virtual only education.
"We want them to see how those plans are going to work and we want them to see how… Again, some of these that may be on the map as high risk, the local context may be different, that they’re not high risk when looking at all the data points," Key said.
Schools are expected to start between August 24 and 26.