The number of Arkansas school districts with growing COVID-19 infection rates grew from 100 to 140 this week, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement reported Thursday.
Last week, the organization began analyzing Arkansas Health Department data to determine the number of new known infections per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period in each Arkansas school district.
After an initial report of 100 cases, the number grew to 140 this week. Of those 140 districts, 16 have 14-day COVID-19 infection rates of 100 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents, or more than 1 percent of residents, up from 12 a week earlier, the organization said.
ACHI temporarily paused its reporting of local COVID data in February because low testing rates made it impossible to provide accurate data, but resumed its reporting last week.
In response to the COVID resurgence related to the delta variant, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called a special session of the state legislature, which opened Wednesday, to address the state’s ban on mask mandates.
A House bill proposes to amend the state’s ban on mask mandates to allow school boards to require masks in school districts with 14-day infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents.
ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said the bill would be preferable to legislative inaction but believes the proposed threshold is too high.
“No school district should be legally barred from protecting Arkansas children from harm,” Thompson said Thursday.“However, politically, if a trigger is necessary to reverse the legislative ban, I believe it should be no higher than 30 new known infections per 10,000 residents over 14 days ― which appears as orange on ACHI’s map. If the Legislature takes no action and allows the ban on mask mandates to remain in effect in all schools while the Delta variant rages in our communities, children will be avoidably exposed to the virus, some will be hospitalized, and likely some will die.”
The school-district infection numbers reported by ACHI refer to infections among community residents living within the geographical boundaries of the school districts and are not specific to school employees and students, according to organization officials. Known infections include confirmed and probable cases, the latter of which are based on verbal reporting and antigen test results as identified by the health department.