White County Central was among eight school districts in the state reported this week by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement as being in the red zone for COVID-19, with cases increasing in the county and state heading into Thanksgiving week.
“We’ve had a slight uptick,” White County Central Superintendent Dean Stanley said. “I think currently we have seven students and two employees infected.
“If we were going to school next week we would be in masks because we are red right now, but since we’re out of school, we’ll just see how next week holds out.”
By next weekend, Stanley said there will be a statement released by the district letting parents know about how things stand.
School districts in the red zone, according to the ACHI, have a COVID-19 new infection rate of more than 50 per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period. Red is the second-highest zone behind purple (100 or more new cases). There were no districts in the red zone the previous week, according to the ACHI.
Asked if he was concerned about the numbers getting worse during the Thanksgiving break, Stanley said “absolutely any time there is large group gatherings, you are always concerned about the spread of COVID, the spread of anything contagious for that matter but especially COVID.”
However, he said the district is “hoping this break will actually be beneficial to us in that it gives us a little time. We got some more kids quarantined, more than we have had in a while so we’re hoping this will slow things down a little bit for us.”
White County Central is among several school districts in the county that started the school year requiring students and staff to wear masks but relaxed the standard as virus cases declined. Only Bradford and Bald Knob were still requiring masks heading into the break, with the other school either making them optional or deciding from week to week whether to require them.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson acknowledged Thursday that the state had been showing a sharp increase in new cases, with more than 800 being reported for the third day in a row. He also said that 30 percent of nearly 11,000 new vaccine doses administered Thursday were first doses and nearly 33,000 doses had been administered since the state expanded booster eligibility to include everyone age 18 and older
“Let’s continue this trend because our new cases are higher than last week,” he tweeted.
Arkansas ranked 38th in the country for new cases per capita, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Riverview Superintendent Stan Stratton acknowledged Friday that “across the state there has been an increase the last couple of weeks” and said he “would anticipate some positive cases after Thanksgiving.”
Bradford Superintendent Patti Stevens said her district has actually had a lower number of COVID-19 cases “than what we have seen in the past couple of weeks so we’re hopeful that we will continue to see that trend.”
She said she also hopes “all of our students have a safe and an enjoyable break and are healthy and ready to return on the Monday we come back on the 29th of November.
Stevens said her district also is “exploring the test to stay option that the state has provided.”
Searcy Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart said his district continues to watch its ACHI data numbers to “see what those tell us” about whether to keep masks optional or require them.
“Today, they showed we were 10 to 19 per 10,000 citizens in our school district,” Hart said Friday. “We’re really doing quite well to be honest.”
Rose Bud Superintendent Allen Blackwell said his district is also doing well, but “I guess any time we have a break we kind of expect a little bit of a surge.”
“But as far as I know we’re not overly concerned,” Blackwell said. “Our numbers have been pretty low most of this fall any way. I think the worst we’ve had was 46 out at one time and that was probably two months ago. We went back to field trips and everything.
“We have not been that concerned, but I understand that some of the bigger districts are having small surges and things. But so far it hasn’t been too bad for us, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed and hope that Thanksgiving goes good and we come back full force.”
According to the latest educational institution report from the Arkansas Department of Health, Beebe had the most active cases as of Thursday among White County school districts with 31. The report lists only district with five or more active cases.
Superintendent Dr. Chris Nail said that “our plan is just to watch the cases once we come back to school to see if our school community will be affected.”
Attempts to contact Bald Knob and Pangburn’s superintendents about their districts were unsuccessful Friday afternoon.