By Mary Hennigan
Within the first two weeks of the new school year, Arkansas’s public school districts reported 2,005 new active COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of illnesses in public schools to 3,352 as of August 26, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
Caddo Hills School District in Norman, Ark., midway between Hot Springs and Mena, reported 36.4 active cases per 1,000 students as of August 26, the highest rate for any school district in the state. The figure is based on ArkansasCovid.com calculations of state health department COVID-19 reports and education department enrollment records.
Nevada School District, east of Hope, Ark., followed as the second-highest with 35.7 cases per 1,000 students and Mineral Springs, north of Texarkana, next with 32.3 active cases per 1,000. There were 173 public school districts named in the report.
Because of the “astronomical” rate of growth in COVID-19 cases, Caddo Hills Superintendent Deric Owens initiated a mask mandate Tuesday. He informed the community via email, Facebook post on the school district’s page and a call out to parents. In total, the school district has 550 students; as of Aug. 24, some 115 students were out, with 85% quarantined and 15% had tested positive, according to the Facebook post.
“We are going to institute mask wearing in all grades beginning tomorrow [Wednesday] and will run through September 10th when we will reevaluate our status,” the Facebook announcement read.
Owens reports daily COVID-19 updates for the school district on the school’s website, and said he will track the effectiveness of mask wearing. Caddo Hills generally has a seven day removal from school with allowance back on the eighth day with a negative test, and then mask wearing upon return.
“We try to keep our kids in school the best we can,” Owens said of the seven-day quarantine.
Masks have been required for the 392 students at Nevada School District since the first day of school, August 16, according to the school’s Facebook page. The same requirement was implemented for the 372 students at the Mineral Springs School District.
At the collegiate level, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, reported the highest count of active cases with 82 as of August 26. The report named 24 colleges with active COVID-19 cases. Together, all colleges totaled 404 active cases.
Two private schools were named in the latest report, St. Joseph Catholic School with 14 active cases, and Little Rock Christian Academy with seven cases. Including unnamed institutions, private schools totaled 66 active cases statewide.
To protect patient confidentiality, ADH does not name schools that report less than five active cases. The number of cases at schools that are unnamed for privacy have been factored into the larger totals.