More permissive quarantine guidelines the Arkansas Department of Health announced for public schools last month aren't contributing to this month's rise in new cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday.
The distance defining a close contact was reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet, meaning an unvaccinated teacher or student who comes in contact with a positive case for 15 or more minutes can be 3 feet closer and not have to quarantine. Previous guidelines allowing unvaccinated students and teachers to avoid quarantine if they and the positive case were both wearing masks are still in place.
Hutchinson noted active cases in schools have decreased, going from 1,514 in the report the Health Department released Nov. 18 to 1,425 in the report released Monday.
"The schools are in good shape," Hutchinson said during his weekly COVID-19 press update.
A study by the Health Department's epidemiologist found that schools with mask mandates have a 25% lower incidence of infection among students and staff than schools that don't require masks. Dr. Jose Romero, the state's secretary of health, said the study's results have yet to be published.
"This is the strongest study to date nationally showing the benefits of masking in schools," he said. "A previous study from Georgia showed a 20% decrease in infection rates in schools that mask. I think this is further evidence that mandating masks or having that ability of the school district to mandate the mask prevents infection in children.
"Children who are not vaccinated are at higher risks for complications. COVID is not a benign disease in children. It is not flu. It is not the cold. We know that it causes death. It's in the top 10 causes of childhood death and surpasses all other vaccine preventable deaths in the United States."
As a service to our readers, The Sentinel-Record publishes updates released by the city of Hot Springs and the state of Arkansas.
The Arkansas Department of Health is no longer reporting confirmed and probable cases separately. The following stats were posted Wednesday on the Health Department's website:
• 525,824 cumulative cases, up 694 from Tuesday.
• 610.14 rolling seven-day average of new cases, down 19.15 from Tuesday.
• 4,210,491 PCR test results, up 5,602 from Tuesday.
• 9.1% cumulative PCR infection rate, no change from Tuesday.
• 6,163 active cases, up 81 from Tuesday.
• 1,644 active juvenile cases, down 40 from Tuesday.
• 510,860 recoveries, up 595 from Tuesday.
• 4,390,930 vaccine doses received, up 14,970 from Tuesday.
• 3,375,060 doses given, up 14,133 from Tuesday.
• 344 hospitalizations, down one from Tuesday.
• 66 cases on ventilators, up six from Tuesday.
• 150 ICU patients, up 10 from Tuesday.
• 8,643 deaths, up 16 from Tuesday.
• 2,269 nursing home deaths, no change from Tuesday.
• 16,157 cumulative cases in Garland County, up four from Tuesday.
• 6.43 rolling seven-day average of new cases, down one from Tuesday.
• 164,431 PCR and antigen test reports, up 228 from Tuesday.
• 10.2% cumulative PCR infection rate, no change from Tuesday.
• 71 active cases in Garland County, down five from Tuesday.
• 15,687 recoveries in Garland County, up nine from Tuesday.
• 399 deaths, no change from Tuesday.