Governor Hutchinson today announced he’d signed a declaration today extending the state of emergency for 60 days.
“The pandemic has not abated. It has not gone away. … While we’re making progress, we do remain in a state of emergency healthwise.” This means existing orders he’s issued remain in effect.
Nonetheless, he today announced guidelines to allow public and private schools to resume team sports with crowds of spectators. Capacity will be limited to two-thirds of a facility’s size and crowds must maintain social distance and wear masks. Individual districts will have to determine compliance on distancing in stadiums and enforce rules. He said schools should be “neighborly” about compliance.
He also said guidance was coming by “sundown tonight” on safe continuation of band and other music programs such as choir.
He said plans continue for resumption of high school football in two weeks. “My admonition, let’s not only start the season this year, let’s work to finish the season.” He said this would require careful attention to safety rules “under challenging circumstances.”
Education Secretary Johnny Key said the state was working to help local districts with supply problems on protective gear. He also said the residential Arkansas School for Math, Science and the Arts in Hot Springs had completed its first week of school with 200 students and it had gone smoothly.
The daily COVID-19 count
Arkansas added 626 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours (189 from prisons), for a total of 52,392. Hospitalizations dropped 7 to 466. Deaths rose by 5 to 587. Active cases: 6,359.
Tests completed: 5,519.
The governor said trends in recent days all were declining.
Is a lack of sufficient testing supplies a failure of leadership, Hutchinson was asked. Why wasn’t it fixed? “I’m not sure I can answer that. I know they’ve worked hard. The fact is it’s not fixed yet.” He said it was “disappointing” that states are still struggling five months into the pandemic.
But he said it was not his role and “not the right time” to “say what we should have done and what we should have done better.” Some day a commission will study that, he said. Now’s not the time, he said. Now’s the time to fix it.
He was asked about the letter signed by thousands calling for a phased opening to regular school. And he was asked about concerns for staffing if teachers don’t work, get sick or get placed in quarantine.
He said he valued the ideas presented in the letter and said the state had addressed many of the concerns, including having delayed the school start by two weeks. But he was resolute for classroom instruction beginning in 10 days. So was Key. “There’s a need for students to be on campus,” Key said. Thousands are enrolled with full state financial support in online charter schools.
Key said school staffing was a “localized” situation. But he said it would be a factor in assessing changes in operation.
Asked what he’d say to people out of work and running out of money, he said, among others, that he hoped they’d find work. He said there were job opportunities available.