LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Governor Asa Hutchinson blunt about the current COVID-19 situation in Arkansas.
“Omicron is here, it is here it is raging across Arkansas,” he said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
It’s a grim picture to paint right now. Active cases have doubled in just a week, hospitalizations have increased more than two-fold since the end of December, and pediatric hospitalizations are already higher than in the month of December and it’s only January 11.
With all that in mind, he vehemently squashed the notion he will be shutting down any part of the state or asking for anyone to shelter in place.
“We need these people in the workplace, we need them in healthcare facilities and we cannot be sheltering in place and considering that as an option,” the governor said.
He added Arkansans must continue to live their lives.
He then pivoted to school districts to remain open as best they can because he deems them ‘critically important’.
“It is critically important for the well-being of our young people, for their mental health, for their development, for their education,” Hutchinson said.
Secretary of Education Johnny Key said they are taking several steps to help schools do just that.
He said schools must continue to identify and report positive cases and that children with symptoms be taken out of the classroom to be tested.
They must also identify obvious contacts and they must be quarantined under current guidance.
But probable close contacts do not have to be reported right now and he hopes that will ease some of the burden and time of chasing those down.
He added schools with mask policies can forego identifying close contacts unless they are at extracurricular events.
Schools have 10 Alternate Methods of Instruction (AMI) days they can use and are supposed to have 5 built-in makeup days to their schedule.
If schools exhaust those he did say they can be creative in making up the lost time such as adding an hour to the day or other options allowed by law.
“Also the option of the old fashion make up day. That is not off the table and it is something that districts can do,” Key said.
Governor Hutchinson urged Arkansans to get their covid shots and boosters if they have not done so.
He was optimistic if Arkansas can ride out this spike then, hopefully soon, the state can back to a more normal way of life.
“But we’ve got to hold the line, we’ve got to make sure we take the action so we can get through January into February when we expect to see the variance diminish significantly just like it has in other countries,” Hutchinson said.