LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two Little Rock-area school districts announced Wednesday that they were shifting to virtual classes for the rest of the week because of a major spike in COVID-19 cases.
Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore announced the decision in a Facebook video, saying it will make the move on Thursday and Friday. He said the district would consider over the weekend whether to continue the shift. The Pulaski County Special School also announced it would shift to virtual learning Thursday and Friday.
At least 179 teachers and students from the district have tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 29, Poore said.
“In my mind, the best thing that we can do for the safety of all students and staff is to go with a virtual delivery Thursday and Friday,” Poore said.
The Hope School District also announced it was shifting to virtual classes for Thursday and Friday, and left open the possibility it could continue into next week.
The moves come as Arkansas sees a record number of COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. The state on Wednesday reported 7,488 new cases, the second day in a row it has announced a record one-day increase. The true number of cases is likely higher due to people testing at home or who are infected but don’t get tested.
The state reported eight new COVID-19 deaths and 44 new hospitalizations.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, which has been tracking cases by school district, reported a record increase in the number of districts where community spread was high.
The center said the number of districts with 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period has seen a nearly fivefold increase, going from 28 last week to 138 this week. The center’s figures include everyone living in a school district’s boundaries, not just teachers and students.
Dr. Joe Thompson, the center’s president and CEO, urged districts to require masks for students and teachers, and to be prepared to shift to virtual learning if necessary.
“We are seeing an explosion as omicron surges across our state,” Thompson said.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has been urging more people to get vaccinated, said “it’s disappointing that vaccinations are increasing only moderately.” The state on Wednesday reported 9,136 additional doses of the vaccine had been administered.
“Let’s make the right decision on vaccinations to support health care workers,” he tweeted.