By Ray King

The Department of Education and the Department of Health are working on plans to reopen schools for in-class education this fall, and Governor Asa Hutchinson on Thursday described it as a “work in progress.”

“We plan to go back to school and manage it in a safe fashion,” Hutchinson said during his COVID-19 briefing at the state capitol.

A representative of the education department said that school districts around the state are being encouraged to form “Ready for Learning” committees and involve parents and others in creating plans for the safest return possible.

Schools will be required to follow health department guidelines which means frequent handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting on a regular basis, wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing whenever it can be done.

“It was different in the first month,” Hutchinson said. “There were a lot more restrictions, Now we have a lot more information and we expect people to take the advice (of the health department).

In his daily briefing, the Governor said there were 448 new cases of COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours bringing the state’s total to 10,816. Of those, four were in correctional facilities and the remaining 444 were in community settings. There are currently 187 people hospitalized and there have been six additional deaths, bringing the state’s total to 171. A total of 3,294 of the cases are active and 7,351 people have recovered.

State Health Officer Dr. Nate Smith said Washington County in Northwest Arkansas had the most reported cases during the period and with 93 percent of those cases in Springdale. A high percentage of the new cases were in the Latino community and Hutchinson said the (Federal) Center for Disease Control (CDC) was sending a team to the area to help state health officials identify and deal with clusters of COVID-19 in the community.

He said 29 percent of the active cases in Arkansas were in the Latino community and 24 percent of the total number that are hospitalized are also from the Latino community.