Governor Hutchinson today greenlighted resumption of high school contact sports this school year.
He’s been adamant about requiring all school districts (except for virtual charters) to have in-class teaching resume the week of Aug. 24. Today he announced that sports may also resume — football, volleyball, cheerleading and others. Also band. Choir recommendations are in the works, but it’s unclear if that’s slated to go forward.
The Arkansas Activities Association, which oversees high school competition, has been preparing for resumption under whatever guidelines the state issues. Athletes are already working out in conditioning drills while theoretically observing distancing rules. Their FAQ on the issue gives an idea of the various complications.
The governor outlined a plan in which no-contact drills begin next week with the expectation of resumption of games in the fall. This will be followed by regular practice. But he asked for a plan from the AAA for the Health Department to issue guidelines for the full resumption of contact sports after next week. He’ll appoint, guess what, a task force to contribute to the planning. It will meet starting Monday.
One topic might be face shields for players. But he said that would be a “cost issue.”
“Sports is a very important part of the development of our youth,” he said. He said there are three weeks before school starts. ‘We’re going to learn from the next three weeks of training and practice. We’ll learn what adjustments need to be made. And we’ll improve our safety protocols.”
Hutchinson said students, parents and coaches were so “passionate” about the difference sports make that he was encouraged to move ahead. He noted the activities are not mandatory. Parents and students may choose not to participate in extra-curricular activities. “But we believe they are important and we want to help them get there.” He also said without sports some athletes might travel to other states to play, which can be risky, and others may engage in negative activities.
Education Secretary Johnny Key was called in to say students who participate in sports have better academic, discipline and attendance records and also have higher self-esteem.
Lance Taylor, director of the Activities Association, said he was “proud” the state would have fall sports and the goal was to begin as scheduled in late August.
Interim Health Director Jose Romero acknowledged that some of the consequences are unknown, particularly in person-to-person virus transmission. It’s a learning experience, he said. “It may go forward; it may collapse upon itself.”
Spectators will have to wear masks and social distance and submit plans under rules on the use of “large venues,” or stadiums.
The news came on a day when the state recorded hundreds of more coronavirus cases and 11 more deaths and against the backdrop of studies showing Arkansas at the bottom in coping with coronavirus and that closure of schools might help suppress the disease.
The daily coronavirus count
Arkansas recorded 752 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours (33 in prisons), for a total of 42,511. Hospitalizations rose 3 to 507. 100 are on ventilators. Deaths rose 11 to 453. Active cases: 6,645.
The top counties for new cases in the last 24 hours: Sebastian, 81; Pulaski, 77; Benton, 51; Washington, 41; Independence, 31; Crittenden and Union, 29; Mississippi, 25; Jefferson, 23; Saline, 21, and Craighead, 20.
Total tests in 24 hours: 7,207.
He was asked about vandalism to the Confederate monuments on the Capitol and whether he favored moving them. He said debate by the legislature was the “right process.”
He was asked about the end today of the special $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit. He said he expected the amount to be reduced. He said his focus was on getting people the jobs. “We don’t want to be paying people more money to stay home when there are opportunities to work.”
He was asked about the refusal to allow a virtual option for pre-K. Johnny Key said it’s difficult to teach pre-K that way. Pre-K also has different funding sources with different limitations. “We feel strongly in-person pre-K is the best way to go.”
Romero said his department had issued a clarification on hydroxychloroquine because of confusion on Arkansas rules concerning the use of the drug. The state continues to recommend following FDA guidelines that say it’s not indicated for treatment of coronavirus. But its use is a matter of individual physician discretion. They may legally prescribe it if they choose, he said.