LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas state officials are implementing new guidance for schools on quarantining students possibly exposed to COVID-19 as case numbers of the virus continue to drop in the state.
During a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the new protocol would change the definition of a “close contact” in a school setting from being within 6 feet of a person with a positive case of COVID-19 for 15 minutes to being within 3 feet of an individual.
Officials also announced that test-to-stay protocols could now also apply to extracurricular activities and not just the school day.
The news was welcomed by education officials who spoke Tuesday, including Education Secretary Johnny Key and Cabot Schools Superintendent Tony Thurman, who said that while concern over the virus remains present, there is a ever-growing worry over learning loss in students being pulled from in-person learning.
Thurman noted that the change in the “close contact” definition will keep more kids in class, reducing stress on students, teachers and parents.
Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero noted that these changes were only being made in K-12 schools, noting that preschools and colleges are still following earlier guidance. He also explained that health officials would be tracking how this affected the case counts in schools, adding that the state could move back to earlier guidelines if they see spikes in cases.
Romero also discussed the vaccination status in the state among young people, noting that efforts to get vaccine doses in students 12-18 were stalling out and saying he expected seeing vaccine eligibility for kids 5-11 sometime next month.
Data shared by the Arkansas Department of Health showed a continued decline in the number of active cases, which dropped by 99 Tuesday to 5,853. The state added 661 new COVID-19 cases, moving to pandemic total to 507,759.
There were 19 deaths added to state totals in the last 24 hours, moving to state’s pandemic death total to 8,221.
The number of patients hospitalized by the virus remained steady, ticking up by one to 461 cases. The number of patients on ventilators dropped by two to 129.
The number of vaccine doses jumped in the last day following weekend dips, with 7,255 given in the last 24 hours. There are now 1,376,741 Arkansans fully immunized against COVID-19, with another 283,967 residents with partial immunity.