CLEVELAND COUNTY, Ark. — Flu-related deaths in Arkansas are spiking past last season as the state continues to deal with a “very high” flu activity level.

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) said 45 people have died due to the flu so far this flu season. That’s 15 more people than reported last week. The virus is also having an effect on the state’s schools.

ADH tracking shows in public schools, 7.5% of students were absent last week, and today Cleveland County School District announced due to the flu they are going all virtual for the rest of the week.

Superintendent Craig Dupuy said it is the first time he’s shut the school’s door because of an influenza outbreak. In the elementary school, about 29% of students were out sick Wednesday. The percentage of teachers out was even higher.

Altogether, 22 teachers, 54 high school students and 86 elementary students reported sick Wednesday in Cleveland County Schools. The district has about 700 students in total with about 300 being elementary students.

Superintendent Craig Dupuy says Rison flu numbers are out of control.

“We want to make sure that the kids were safe and the teachers were able to manage the students they were watching. And as the course of today progressed, I think we made the right decision”, Dupuy said.

Letter sent to parents from Superintendent Dupuy

He sent out this letter hours earlier saying no students will report to campus for the rest of the week. Thursday staff will disinfect the building. Friday and into the weekend all on-campus events are canceled. All the while, students will be learning online.

“I know it’s hard to make plans for babysitters and trying to get your kids taken care of on Thursday and Friday, but in this case, it was the best thing to do,” Dupuy emphasized.

The district’s concerns are in health but also safety and security as classes combined into large groups supervised by a shrinking number of healthy substitute staff.

“Whenever you have multiple classes being watched, you know, by one teacher, most of the time those don’t turn out real well,” Dupuy explained. “It wiped the whole 3rd grade out as far as teachers were concerned.”

While sharing her reaction, third grade teacher Katie Davis preferred to stay indoors during her interview to prevent any further spread.

Davis admitted she saw the numbers rising around her before testing positive for influenza Tuesday.

“I kind of had a feeling it was just a matter of time before I got it. I’m not really surprised,” Davis stated.

Katie Davis said COVID prepared everyone for the switch to the virtual classroom. She thinks going virtual through the weekend is a good idea, especially being so close to the holidays and just a week before end-of-semester tests.

“I appreciate it. I hope this clears it out and everybody gets well soon,” Davis concluded.

The Arkansas Department of Health published the absentee rate in public schools by county in their latest report below.