LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — With the fourth week of school underway for Arkansas public schools, the Arkansas Department of Health reports 574 active cases of coronavirus.
In a press conference Tuesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson explained that last year, Arkansas had 470,000 K-12 public school students.
"If we have similar numbers this year, then that means we've had 574 active cases in our schools, that is less than less than two-tenths of a percent," Hutchinson said, "In terms of cases in our schools, that's really a good start. it shows they're really following the guidelines and all really working hard to have a successful year."
Dr. Ivy Pfeffer, deputy commissioner for the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the active cases will impact schools operations differently depending on whether the case was a student or staff member, and the total number of close contacts.
"In many cases, if there are large numbers of staff affected in a school district, then the school district does have to make modifications," Dr. Pfeffer said.
Since school started, Pfeffer said there have been a total of 39 coronavirus modifications to onsite instruction. Currently, 22 of those are ongoing, and eight were added this past week. "We have to remember that each of these modifications are unique to the school district and unique to the circumstances around the need for the modification," Dr. Pfeffer said.
"You can see that districts are really taking a measured response, really focusing on the needs of their school community," Dr. Pfeffer said.
Due to HIPAA and FERPA guidelines, superintendent Dr. Charles McNulty couldn’t elaborate on which elementary school was impacted in PCSSD.
"I just want to I want to thank our community, we know it's hard, we know that we're following HIPAA and FERPA guidelines and sometimes it feels like that you're not getting the information that you need," Dr. McNulty said, "If you remember, it's all about PPE, it's all about behaviors outside of school, and we're going to respect your child's rights and information and ensure that HIPAA and FERPA are followed."
PCSSD currently has 20 active coronavirus cases. Dr. McNulty said the district currently has two nurses, and one is dedicated to contact tracing and contacting impacted families when the Department of Health identifies a positive case.
"We had a great opportunity to work with Arkansas Department of Health in a training process, not only to look at protocols, but also look at HIPAA and FERPA regulations, and, you know, who needs to know, why do they need to know, and then how do we contact them, ways to ensure privacy," Dr. McNulty said.
Dr. McNulty said the contact tracers are working around the clock to contact anyone who may be at risk. He said the nurses work in two shifts, and hotlines are open until 8 p.m.
"The Arkansas Department of Health is also collecting information, s between the two of us, we really feel confident that, at least internally, that we've identified students who could be at risk," Dr. McNulty said.
A close contact is anyone who's spent a cumulative 15 minutes with someone who's tested positive within six feet or less. Dr. McNulty believes the PPE is protecting students and staff, and said so far the district has not had any internal transmission of COVID-19 that they're aware of.
"I want to just thank our students and our families, we've had an amazing response to our PPE," Dr. McNulty said, "Our kids are amazing, they've done all they need to do, and our professional staff, not only do they wear a mask, but we're asking them to wear goggles and or face shields."
Dr. McNulty went on to say that the district is getting much better with virtual instruction. He said they learned a lot from last spring, and despite some technical difficulties at the beginning of the year, he felt they're improving. Should the district need to pivot to virtual learning, he felt they could.