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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks Tuesday Sept. 29, 2020 in Little Rock during his weekly covid-19 briefing at the state Capitol. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/930governor/. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal) - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The superintendent of the Atkins School District on Tuesday became one of the latest Arkansans to die of the coronavirus as the state count of cases rose by 706.

Jody Jenkins died early Tuesday after being treated at an intensive-care unit at a Little Rock hospital, where he had been placed on a ventilator.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Jenkins was "highly respected throughout the River Valley for his devotion to his family, for his love of sports and love of education, and he will be missed."

"The constant lesson is, whether you're at church, whether you're at school, whether you're in the grocery store, that it's possible to get covid if you're not careful," Hutchinson said when asked whether he was concerned about the potential for more hospitalizations occurring among teachers and administrators.

"We want to make schools as safe an environment as possible for the students, for the teachers, and we want to work on that every day.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to view » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yY_Ysb8Gb8]

"It's necessary, and there's dedicated staff and teachers, but we want to do everything we can to keep everyone safe in that environment."

The cases added to the state's tallies included 482 that were confirmed through polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests.

The other 224 were "probable" cases, which include those identified through less-sensitive antigen tests.

The death toll from the virus, as tracked by the state Department of Health, rose by 21, to 1,350.

All the deaths that were added to the count were of confirmed cases, raising the death toll among such cases to 1,204.

The state's count of virus deaths includes 146 among probable cases.

Among nursing-home residents, the count of covid-19 deaths increased by 11, to 455.

Although 65 people with covid-19 were newly admitted to hospitals in the state, the total number hospitalized fell by six, to 490, as others were discharged or died.

Gallery: COVID-19 Briefing 9-29-20

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The patients in the hospital on Tuesday included 97 on ventilators, down from 99 a day earlier.

The state's cumulative count of cases rose to 82,755.

That comprised 80,003 confirmed cases and 2,752 probable ones.

Despite the different classifications, the Health Department has said it treats confirmed and probable cases the same for the purposes of its contact-tracing efforts.

That includes requiring people whose results are positive from either type of test to isolate themselves and those they may have infected to quarantine.

The number of confirmed or probable cases that were considered active fell by 182, to 6,960, as 867 Arkansans were newly classified as having recovered.

TEST KITS AWAITED

At his news conference on the coronavirus, Hutchinson announced that Arkansas will receive 900,000 of the 150 million credit card-size antigen tests kits that the federal government ordered last month from Illinois' Abbott Laboratories for $760 million.

He said the state should get its first shipment of 59,000 kits within the next 10 days.

In the meantime, Health Secretary Dr. "[Jose] Romero and I and the Health Department team will be developing the plan to utilize this allocation of rapid response tests that will be really beneficial to us in terms of our schools, in terms of our prisons, in terms of our nursing homes, but we hope that we'll have sufficient quantity to even go beyond that," Hutchinson said.

President Donald Trump said Monday that his administration also is delivering 50 million of the kits nationwide to nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, hospice care agencies, historically Black colleges and universities and the Indian Health Service.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » nwaonline.com/coronavirus]

The test kits, which received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month, deliver results in about 15 minutes without the use of a machine or computer equipment.

Arkansas' allotment of the Abbott kits is an addition to the supplies it has ordered for the 200 antigen testing machines it purchased in July.

Hutchinson announced earlier this month that the state had received enough supplies to test 12,000 Arkansans with the machines, which also return results in about 15 minutes.

The state has focused its use of the machines on elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities.

Arkansas this week surpassed Hutchinson's goal to have 1 million PCR tests conducted of the state's residents by Oct. 20.

As of Tuesday, the number of PCR tests performed in the state since the start of the pandemic exceeded that number by almost 19,000, according to the Health Department's online dashboard of coronavirus information.

The state last week surpassed Hutchinson's goal to have 180,000 PCR tests conducted in September, with the number reaching 256,542 as of Tuesday.

The 21,214 antigen tests that had been conducted this month as of Tuesday was more than double Hutchinson's goal of having 10,000 such tests conducted in September.

SUPERINTENDENT'S DEATH

Jenkins announced on the district's Facebook page on Sept. 13 that he had tested positive for the virus. He described his symptoms as mild, saying that he had "had worse cases of the flu."

But his condition took a turn for the worse, with family members regularly updating the district on Facebook while Jenkins was in the intensive-care unit at CHI St. Vincent Infirmary-Little Rock.

Complications included blood clots in his legs and in his aorta, according to posts on Facebook.

He was on a ventilator.

"The doctors have said they 'have never seen a case this bad with this many complications,'" one update on the district's Facebook page said.

An announcement posted Tuesday said he passed away around 2 a.m. that day.

Jenkins graduated from Atkins High School in 1981 and returned to serve as its superintendent in July 2019.

He worked at a number of other districts as an administrator and a football coach before returning to his hometown. His colleagues said that working for the Atkins School District had always been his dream.

"He loved this school," said Darrell Webb, acting superintendent, who has known Jenkins since the 1970s when they were classmates at Atkins. "He loved the community. When that happens, teachers and kids can sense that."

Webb said Jenkins could be seen daily standing at the carpool line greeting students as they arrived. He rarely missed a sporting event. He visited with kids during lunch. Outside of work, he was an active member of Atkins First Baptist Church.

"You could tell by his actions, he just loved his job," Webb said. "His vision was to make the school a better place. He loved being there."

"He was a hometown boy," Mark Coffman, Atkins school board president, said. "We are going to miss him being our superintendent, obviously, but we will also miss his friendship and his community involvement.

"We were blessed to have a guy like him come lead our district," Coffman said. "It was not just a job for him, it was a passion for him to come back to his hometown."

Coffman said that Webb, Atkins dean of students and athletic director, would serve as acting superintendent "for the foreseeable future."

Jenkins' death occurred the same day that another superintendent learned he had tested positive for the virus.

Matt Summers, superintendent of the Green Forest School District near Harrison, said he began feeling ill Saturday morning after attending a football game the night before. His first test results were negative.

"What happened to me is I had game duty for a football game Friday night and got in late, then started deteriorating from there," he said. "On Sunday morning, I woke up and could not taste my breakfast and have had a low grade fever and cough."

He said he learned Tuesday morning that he had tested positive.

Including Summers, four faculty members and three students have tested positive at Green Forest, resulting in the quarantine of 16 staff members and 68 students.

Because of staffing issues and the high number of cases, grades six through 12 will pivot to online learning starting Thursday through Oct. 14, Summers said.

"To the best of my knowledge, no one has been hospitalized and everyone is doing as well as can be expected," Summers said.

In June, the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the Nashville School District were hospitalized after testing positive. The assistant superintendent has not yet returned to work after an extended hospitalization.

INSTRUCTIONAL SHIFTS

Education Secretary Johnny Key said 36 schools as of Tuesday had modifications in place, such as shifting some or all classes to online-only, in response to coronavirus cases.

Twenty-six such modifications went into effect last week, which he said "was an increase over the previous weeks."

Paris Middle School will continue with all-virtual instruction until Friday, Wayne Fawcett, superintendent for the Paris School District, said.

About 300 students in grades five through eight are affected, he said.

The district previously announced that the entire district would be online-only Friday and Monday in response to virus cases and students and teachers who had to quarantine.

There have been "a couple" of positive cases, but it's been quarantine restrictions that have been "more onerous," Fawcett said. He said seven teachers have had to quarantine and only one substitute was available.

Other districts with new modifications include the fourth grade of Pine Bluff Light House Charter School, which shifted to virtual learning from Tuesday until Oct. 12 and Sloan-Hendrix Elementary School's pre-K, which also shifted to virtual Tuesday through Oct. 8.

Harding University, the largest private university in the state with an enrollment of about 4,500 students this fall, continues with a two-week suspension of non-instructional large group activities announced last week.

Jana Rucker, a spokeswoman for the private Christian university in Searcy, said a decision is expected Thursday about whether the suspension will continue beyond Friday.

Close contact, as described on Harding's website, refers to being within 6 feet of an infectious patient for more than 15 minutes. The university describes a patient as considered to have begun being infectious 48 hours either before the onset of symptoms or, for asymptomatic cases, before a positive test.

On Tuesday, the campus on its website reported active cases of 14 students and two employees, down from Sept. 22 when the campus reported such cases of 27 students and two employees.

DISCIPLINE DELAYED

Meanwhile, the Little Rock School District announced Tuesday that it would delay disciplinary action for the 69 teachers who refused to go to class Monday for face-to-face instruction as part of an action passed last Thursday by the Little Rock Education Association to protest covid-19 safety concerns.

District administrators said they were notified of the vote Sunday and were left with little time to alert parents and find substitute teachers.

The union voted for withdrawing the action calling for teachers to have virtual classes instead of blended classes, where some students attend bricks-and-mortar classrooms.

Teresa Knapp Gordon, the union president, said the vote was held because of negative feedback toward teachers.

Gordon did not respond for comment on Tuesday's decision to delay disciplinary action.

In a text message, Superintendent Mike Poore said there will still be action toward teachers who did not show up to teach Monday, but that it was delayed because "we just want to make sure we had all of our ducks in a row."

Poore said a formal decision would be made today.

In its daily report on the coronavirus, the district said one employee and two students had tested positive in the 24-hour period ending Tuesday afternoon.

Another 10 students and nine employees were required to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive.

WHITE HOUSE REPORT

A weekly report from the White House coronavirus task force continued to list Arkansas as being in the "red zone" for new cases, although the number the state added last week was down slightly from the week before.

The 5,866 cases the state added during the week that ended Friday translated to a rate of 194 cases per 100,000 residents-- the seventh-highest rate in the country, according the report.

The previous week, the state added 204 cases per 100,000 residents, giving it the country's fourth-highest growth rate of new cases per capita.

States are listed as being in the "red zone" for new cases if they had 101 or more new cases per 100,000 residents.

Arkansas also continued to be in the "yellow zone" for the percentage of its PCR tests that were positive.

That number increased slightly from 6.8% during the week that ended Sept. 16 to 6.9% during the week that ended Sept. 23.

States were considered to be in the yellow zone for that measure if 5%-7.9% of their tests were positive and in the "orange zone" if 8%-10% of their tests were positive.

The latest edition of the report, dated Sunday, recommends that the state focus "testing in areas with persistent high levels of transmission and rapidly increasing incidence in northeast and southeast Arkansas."

"Abbott BinaxNOW supplies will be distributed in the coming weeks; develop plan for weekly surveillance in critical populations to monitor the degree of community spread among K-12 teachers; staff working in nursing homes, assisted living, senior living facilities, and other congregate living settings including correctional facilities; and first responders," the report says, referring to the credit-card size antigen tests.

"Historically Black Colleges and Universities will receive testing supplies this week."

The report also recommended inspecting infection control practices and nursing homes and prisons.

OUTLOOK IMPROVES

The Health Department's count of confirmed or probable coronavirus cases increased by 92 in Washington County; 71 in Pulaski County; 50 in Benton County; 41 in Sebastian County; and 29 in both Craighead and Faulkner counties.

Meanwhile, projections released Tuesday by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health gave a significantly improved long-term outlook for the state compared with what researchers had forecast two weeks earlier.

The latest projections, dated Sept. 23, predict that active infections will peak at 58,384 on Feb. 22 under a moderate scenario or 88,408 on Feb. 10 under a worst-case scenario.

Those numbers include infections predicted to be confirmed through tests, as well as undetected infections of people who don't show symptoms and others who are infected but don't get tested.

The previous forecast, dated Sept. 9, predicted that infections would peak at 83,605 on Dec. 23 under a moderate scenario or 122,267 on Dec. 14 under a worst-case scenario.

Under a moderate scenario, the latest forecast predicts that hospitalizations will peak at 1,401, with 490 Arkansans in intensive care and 171 on ventilators.

The earlier forecast had predicted a peak of 2,090 hospitalizations under a moderate scenario, with 836 patients in intensive care and 334 on ventilators.

"The most apparent difference from our previous long-term models is that the peak of the pandemic is projected for mid-February, with fewer active infections at the time of the peak," researchers wrote in the latest report.

Another model included in the forecast predicts that the cumulative count of cases will reach 124,054 by Nov. 15, with the death toll reaching 2,501.

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