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State schools log covid-case climb for month so far

Count rises 15% over 3 days by Jaime Adame | April 9, 2021 at 3:23 a.m.

Active cases of covid-19 in public school districts increased by about 15% over a three-day period that ended Thursday, according to a state Department of Health report.

Case counts have risen steadily this month, according to Health Department data on covid-19 in schools.

The Health Department's Thursday report showed active infections among students and staff increasing to 195, up from 170 listed in a report Monday. Reports are released twice each week.

But the total remains below the 302 active cases as of March 18, the final Health Department report before spring break week.

Some education leaders are gathering survey data to gauge interest in having schools serve as vaccination sites.

"If an individual is seeking this [vaccine], it's voluntary in nature. It's an individual's right and an individual's choice, and our intention is to provide that choice," said Michael Murphy, superintendent for the Fountain Lake School District in Hot Springs.

However, surveys can lead to misunderstandings, Murphy said. Some parents reacted with questions of their own after receiving text messages on their cellphones Monday from the district that linked to an online vaccination survey.

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

The survey asked if they had been vaccinated and, if not, would they or others 16 and older be interested in getting vaccinated. In Arkansas, individuals age 16 and up are now eligible to receive the covid-19 vaccine.

"They don't know who's tracking the data, so I think that's been an obvious concern among some community members," Murphy said.

He said the survey's purpose is to find out how many shots might be needed for a vaccination clinic. Those responding to the survey could include their name, but it wasn't required, he said.

"We do not have the capability to track an individual response. It goes back through a database, and all we're looking at is the group results," Murphy said.

As of Thursday, 303 respondents had said they were not interested in getting vaccinated at the school while 175 said yes to getting vaccinated, Murphy said.

Murphy said he and other leaders in Garland County have been meeting to discuss issues related to covid-19.

"Overall, we are finding that the level of participation in Garland County is slightly lower than the state average when it comes to the covid-19 vaccine," Murphy said.

He said he thinks there needs to be more education about the vaccine.

"A lot of people when you ask them, the first thing that most people tell you is they want to think about it, they don't know," Murphy said.

Murphy said that with no indication of a forthcoming statewide vaccination requirement for those in school, virus concerns may continue after this school year ends.

"My new normal may not be the normal everyone is looking for, because I have an obligation to protect the students and staff in the schools," Murphy said.

The Lake Hamilton School District, also in Garland County, in a survey asked those responding to indicate if they were interested in getting the vaccine at an on-site clinic.

"The ultimate goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. However, it's voluntary," said Brian Bridges, the district's communications and public relations coordinator. He said 135 responded to say they had interest in participating in the on-site clinic. The district is working with pharmacy providers in the Hot Springs area and no decision has been made yet about having such a clinic, Bridges said.

CASE COUNTS

The Health Department report Thursday listed three school districts with 10 or more active covid-19 cases: Bentonville, with 18, and Cabot and Rogers, each with 10 active cases. Ten school districts were listed as having five or more active cases.

The report Thursday also showed covid-19 cases rising at colleges and universities in the state, the latest total more than double the count from less than two weeks ago.

Active infections increased to 101 at colleges, up from the 75 cases listed in Monday's report. A March 29 report listed 43 active cases at colleges and universities in the state.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville topped all universities with 24 active cases, followed by the University of Central Arkansas with 14 active cases and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with 10 active infections.

Vaccination efforts continue at college campuses.

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville held an on-campus clinic Wednesday where 80 were vaccinated, said spokesman Sam Strasner.

Since March 16, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson made colleges students in residence halls and Greek houses eligible to receive the vaccine, 976 people have been vaccinated at campus vaccination events, Strasner said. He said that since Jan. 1, a total of 1,361 people have gotten the vaccine via the university.

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