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LITTLE ROCK -- Schools throughout Arkansas will be closed for onsite instruction for the next two weeks due to concerns over the new coronavirus, officials announced Sunday.

The mandatory statewide closure, which starts Tuesday, will be followed by spring break the following week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a news conference. Students would return to classrooms on March 30, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.

"We think this is prudent at this time to make this call," said Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key. "It's a very tough call to make because we know students depend on so many things for their care and education in their local schools."

Students will be given computers or other electronic devices and materials they will need to work from home, Key said. Many schools will work to provide meals to students while they are away from their campuses.

Nearly 480,000 students are enrolled in Arkansas schools.

The vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 recover within weeks. It causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

Arkansas has reported 16 cases of COVID-19, an increase of four since Saturday.

Officials made the decision to close schools to onsite instruction in part due to concerns by parents and teachers over the spread of the virus in Arkansas and also to give officials a chance to increase the state's testing capabilities, Hutchinson said.

Officials expect the state's testing capabilities to increase to 440 per day by the end of next week, Hutchinson said. The Arkansas Department of Health can currently perform up to 40 tests per day.

State Desk on 03/16/2020

Print Headline: Arkansas reports 16 COVID-19 cases

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