Governor Hutchinson announced today a guide for parents to plan for in-person school.
It’s the product of a partnership of Children’s Hospital, UAMS, the Education Department and Health Department. UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said it includes advice on opening schools safely and also resources for special needs, including behavioral. It’s written in “lay terms,” he said.
Patterson said the situation was “evolving” and documents would be revised as needed. He added this was not a guide designed to signal support on whether schools should open. Those are decisions for the governor and his education and health departments, he said.
Ivy Pfeffer, deputy Education commissioner, said a state telephone helpline for parents’ questions has been handling 30 to 50 calls a day.
Asked about a widely circulated photo of a Little Rock teacher’s photograph of a meager allotment of protective items, Pfeffer said supplies were still being gathered and the state was working a strategic reserve.
A Hot Springs teacher spoke enthusiastically of returning to classrooms. She said she had concerns but more concerns if children didn’t go to school.
The daily COVID-19 count
Arkansas reported to 652 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours (13 in prisons), for a total to date of 51,766. Hospitalizations down 13 to 473. Deaths rose by 9 to 582. Active cases: 6,582.
The top counties for new cases in 24 hours: Pulaski, 88; Sebastian, 44; Crittenden, 37; Benton, 34; and Jefferson, 26.
Tests reported in the last 24 hours: 5,192.
The governor said the last few days have generally shown movement in the right direction, but he cautioned that this could change.
Today, he highlighted a drop in new cases among young people, with a particularly sharp drop in those aged 10 to 18 in July. He said he takes that as a hopeful sign for the return of school. Health Director Jose Romero also noted a drop in positivity rates in tests of children, though above 10 percent in all but the youngest children. He believes this is linked to increase the use of masks.
Hutchinson mostly dodged a question about statements by Donald Trump opposing aid to Postal Service for fear it would aid voting by mail. His adviser Lawrence Kudlow said voting rights were part of a liberal wish list.
Hutchinson first answered simply by saying he hoped Congress would reach a consensus on virus aid. “If there are other things, fight that battle another time.”
On a followup question pressing on the mail issue, he said “talk about getting greater access to vote should be a bipartisan issue.” He also said, “We want everyone to vote.’ But then he said, “There are differences of opinion on how you get there.” He contended Arkansas HAD moved in a bipartisan manner to encourage voting. But the vote by mail efforts will be meaningless if the mail isn’t delivered. And the state to date has resisted providing money to defer mailing costs. He never addressed Trump’s attack on the postal service or use of mail absentee ballots.
He also danced around a direct answer on whether the Arkansas legislature would get behind Donald Trump’s plan for a reduced unemployment benefit paid out of disaster money, which would require legislative action.
He said the state was still working on a standardized plan to cover attendance at high school football games. Yesterday, officials had indicated an individual plan would have to be approved for every high school. The governor said plans were in flux, but “not every seat in the stands is going to be filled.”
He also dodged a question about Arkansas’s Top 10 ranking by Johns Hopkins for positivity rate in testing for COVID-19, more than 12 percent against 8.8 overall in Arkansas since March. Hutchinson said the period studied was important. Indeed. If it is higher now than it was in the beginning (which it is as a seven-day rolling average), that would seem to be a concern.