UPDATE (4/7/20): Today, Governor Hutchinson announced a total of 946 positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas and 18 total deaths. He said 152 people have met the criteria to be considered “recovered.”
He also said the Arkansas Heart Hospital has received 500 of the quick-result tests and they are donating those specifically for testing health care providers. The Governor also discussed the 2020 Fiscal Legislative Session which begins tomorrow at noon. He will deliver his State of the State address on the Senate floor and announce issues and priorities for the year ahead. The Fiscal Session is a Constitutional requirement. Lawmakers will focus on passing a scaled back state budget that can be responsive to the expected drop in state revenues due to business closures and other reductions in commerce during the COVID-19 crisis.
UPDATE (4/6/20) : Today, Governor Hutchinson announced a total of 875 positive COVID-19 cases with no additional deaths. He also discussed Arkansas's efforts to slow the spread of the virus and reiterated that the social distancing, mask-wearing and other behaviors are working.
He also announced that public schools will continue to be closed for on site instruction through the end of the school year, but schools will continue Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI).
Secretary of Education, Johnny Key announced that AMI via Arkansas PBS will have lessons available through April 17 and will extend that for two additional weeks through May 1st to give school districts time to develop plans for AMI in their districts with additional support from the Department of Education. He also noted that digital and online learning for high school students will continue.
Key also asked schools and educators to be flexible when developing AMI plans and called it "impractical" to replicate the school experience at home. He noted students and parents may need additional support beyond 8-3pm. The State expects the AMI focus to be on core content and that other courses should be used to supplement the core content. Special education, English as a Second Language, content specialists and GT teachers should collaborate with core content area teachers. Schools are expected to set specific times for teachers to be accessible to parents and students.
Key also said high school seniors who have met the state requirements will graduate, but local requirements still need to be met, meaning students need to continue with their coursework.
Schools will continue to provide meals to students as long as CDC guidelines are followed.
Key said that there will be a "ripple effect" into next year and said the department will be assessing how to best mitigate any problems that could carry into next school year.
He also encouraged teachers get professional development hours via online methods and noted that all need to complete the science of reading professional development.
School report cards will be impacted without Aspire this year as well as the lack of measures around attendance and growth.
Special education teachers are asked to review 504 plans and IEP’s and align the assignments for those students the best they can. In addition therapists delivering speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy need to be mindful of the potential lack of these services during this time. When school comes back, they and special education teachers need to identify what has been missed and compensate for the missed therapy.
Key said that graduation ceremonies will be subject to Arkansas Dept. of Health’s guidelines for gatherings. Districts are exploring various options, but it is “very much up in the air.”
UPDATE (4/3/20): Today, the Governor reported a total of 704 positive COVID-19 cases and no new deaths. Currently 71 patients are being hospitalized and 60 patients have met the definition of “recovered.”
The Gov. Announced that just today the state received our first shipment of personal protective gear for front line and health care providers.
The state’s testing capability continues to increase and the state has conducted nearly 10,000 tests, of those 7.3% have returned positive. Tests have been performed in all counties and UAMS has developed a mobile testing unit that is traveling to more remote counties.
The Governor said social distancing is “critically important” for us to be successful in fighting the outbreak. He said more Arkansans must take the directive seriously and called on every Arkansan to feel the need to contribute to, feel responsible for, and engage in social distancing and other practices to slow the spread.
UPDATE (4/2/20): Today, the Governor reported a total of 643 positive COVID-19 cases and a total of 12 deaths.
The Governor also addressed calls to implement a “Stay at Home” or “Shelter in Place” order, because Arkansas is one of the few states that have not taken such action. He outlined the measures that have been implemented, including closing schools and businesses like casinos, hair salons, gyms, bars and restaurant dining rooms.
These measures exceed some other states, he said, and even in states with stay at home orders, essential workers and some activities are exempted. He said decisions are being made based on data, with the goal of reducing hospitalizations, saving lives and getting through the situation as quickly as possible. He added that the state is constantly watching for compliance with social distancing guidelines, and when a group is not doing what they need to for safety, stronger measures are taken.
The Governor said this targeted approach is working for the state at this time. He said the number of positive cases is 400 lower than the states original projections, suggesting Arkansas is successfully bending the curve and reducing hospitalizations.
Also at today’s press briefing, Arkansas Secretary of Health, Dr. Nate Smith defended the state’s approach. He said there is political pressure to follow other states’ lead in issuing the order, but said we don’t have compelling evidence a stay at home order would work more than the more targeted approach.
UPDATE (4/1/20): Today, the Governor reported a total of 584 positive COVID-19 cases and a total of 10 deaths. 84 of the positive cases are healthcare workers. He also reported that in the last 24 hours, Arkansas and commercial labs have grown in the ability to test more people. The Governor also announced a partnership with Walmart, the State of Arkansas and Qwest Laboratories to begin a drive through testing facility in Bentonville that will focus on first responders and health care workers exhibiting symptoms. He announced the state will move to day trip only use of state parks and restricted parking to limit access and to give park rangers the ability to enforce social distancing guidelines. This will begin on Friday, April 3. He also announced he will recommend the closure of the Buffalo National Park through this national emergency. However, that decision is made by the US Secretary of the Interior.
Also at today’s press briefing, Arkansas Secretary of Health, Dr. Nate Smith urged Arkansans to take care of themselves and follow the Arkansas Department of Health and CDC guidelines and to check in on each other, especially those who are most vulnerable.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston announced the state is still awaiting guidance from the US Department of Labor around additional Unemployment Insurance provisions in the recently enacted CARES Act will work for Arkansans. He requested that those seeking assistance under this new federal provision, which includes gig workers, should look for guidance on eligibility for this program in the days and weeks to come.
(UPDATE (3/31/20): Today, the Governor reported 523 positive COVID-19 cases and a total of 8 deaths. The Governor presented data showing the current number of positive cases is lower than the modeling that projected Arkansas would have 3,500 cases by April 10. The Governor called on Arkansans to do their part to be self-disciplined and to follow the Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines and directives.
When asked about any additional announcements regarding public schools, Governor Hutchinson said his focus is on ensuring that education is continuing even as it is conducted off site. He touted the resources available to all grade levels via Arkansas PBS. He said he would likely announce additional information next week about the possibility of extending school closures beyond the current date of April 17. He said he would take into consideration the national guidance announced by President Trump to continue social distancing at least through April 30.
The Governor also raised concerns about out-of-state travelers and has asked state officials to implement strategies to curtail out-of-state travelers from visiting Arkansas. State officials said more than 30K unemployment claims have been submitted in Arkansas, and more than 250 applications have been submitted for small business bridge loans.
UPDATE (3/30/20): Over the weekend, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas continued to rise and today the Governor announced the number is up to 473 with a total of 7 deaths.
Also over the weekend, President Trump announced that he is extending social distancing guidelines for the nation to at least April 30. Health Secretary Nate Smith said outdoor sporting activities were okay as long as participants can maintain the six foot distance between each other. He added that it is perfectly fine to utilize state parks and other outdoor spaces but that any use of the facilities requires maintaining social distancing guidelines.
In addition, the Governor said a shelter-in-place order is not needed at this time. He also gave an update on the $30 million the state had previously allocated to secure some personal protective gear for front line health care workers. He noted the investment has allowed the state to lock in an additional supply of these items and he expects delivery shortly. However, he noted that that amount will not be sufficient to last Arkansas through the crisis.
In an attempt to secure additional personal protective gear and ventilators, the Governor is planning to utilize an additional $45 million of the $173 million COVID 19 Rainy Day Fund that was created and approved by the legislature during the Special Legislative Session which concluded in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Also announced today, the state anticipates $1.25 billion in aid as part of the CARES Act which was passed by Congress and signed into law late last week. To manage these funds, the Governor announced a taskforce to help manage the use of these funds.
Looking ahead to the 2020 Fiscal Legislative Session, the Governor confirmed the need to revise and lower the state’s revenue forecast.
UPDATE (3/27/20): The Arkansas General Assembly convened today for a second day of the Special Legislative Session. The House and Senate both unanimously voted to advance the bill to create a $173 million dollar emergency fund to begin to address the anticipated state budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. The bill advances to final passage which is expected after midnight tonight when lawmakers will reconvene for the requisite third day of session. The bill will then go to the Governor's desk. Earlier today, the Governor announced that he would sign the bill as soon as it was available to be signed into law.
At today's daily press update, the Governor announced a total of 381 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arkansas with 48 needing hospitalization and no new deaths.
The Governor said a daily evaluation of new data is informing the state's response, and presented information on the upward trend of COVID spread. He said models predict the peak occurring anywhere between April 25 to June 1.
In addition, he authorized the National Guard to begin assisting in the expansion of hospital beds capacity as the state begins to plan for the future. The Governor also announced that Arkansas has now placed an order for 500 ventilators.
Also today, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced she is allocating an additional $1M to ensure that health care providers are able to acquire personal protective equipment. She also mentioned that her office has received 500 price gouging complaints and that they are actively enforcing the price gouging law.
UPDATE (3/26/20): Today the House and Senate Convened to open a Special Legislative Session. Lawmakers began the process to consider only one bill that would:
- Set up a transfer of $173M in the General Revenue Allotment Reserve fund to a special COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund to address needs created by the COVID-19 crisis.
- Create a panel of legislative leaders to oversee expenditure requests from this new COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund.
The House easily advanced the bill from a committee of the whole to be considered by the full House tomorrow with minimal debate while the Senate extensively debated an amendment to tighten up oversight of the expenditures from the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund. That amendment ultimately failed, and the Senate advanced the bill as well.
The House and Senate will convene again tomorrow at 3pm to continue considering this emergency proposal.
Following today's session of the General Assembly, the Governor announced Arkansas now has 335 Confirmed COVID-19 cases. In addition, Arkansas now has a total of 3 COVID-19 deaths.
Today, the Governor also announced $116 million in additional supports for front line health care providers and hospitals. Federal funding will make up around $90 million of the $116 million package.
UPDATE (3/25/20): Today, Governor Hutchinson announced 280 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. He also noted a significant increase in testing as the state moves toward a more accurate picture of the outbreak in the state.
The Governor also stated the previously announced Special Legislative Session will begin tomorrow at 1pm. This session is being called to deal with the anticipated $353 million shortfall in state revenues in the current fiscal year which ends June 30.
The Governor has also asked for the expedited licensing of health care workers. He has requested emergency, temporary licensure to medical residents who have completed one year of internship. Fifteen residents have now applied for this licensure and will be able to enter the heath care field.
The state medical board expedited and licensed 100 new physicians in March. In addition, the state nursing board has issued 300 new licenses through an expedited process this month.
To slow the upward trend line, the public needs to abide by the guidance of the Department of Health to limit gatherings to ten people or fewer. This will now shift from ‘guidance’ to becoming a directive from the Dept. of Health. This means law enforcement can enforce the 10 person limit on gatherings.
Unemployment numbers were also discussed. The state received 9,000 unemployment claims last week, and another 8,000 this week so far, including 700 filed just this morning.
UPDATE (3/24/20): This afternoon, Governor Hutchinson announced that the Special Legislative Session will begin March 26th to take budgetary action to address $353 million shortfall in the current fiscal year which ends June 30, 2020.
The Governor also said the number confirmed positive cases in Arkansas is now 218 with the first 2 deaths reported today as well. He said that the state is still on the front end of the COVID-19 related crisis. He implored the public and businesses to follow the directives coming from state health officials.
UPDATE (3/23/20): Today marks the first day of Spring Break for Arkansas public schools. This afternoon, Governor Hutchinson announced 174 confirmed cases of COVID-19. He also announced a projected $160 million reduction in state revenue between now and the end of June 30, which is the end of the state fiscal year. In addition, the state tax return filing deadline for individual taxpayers will be extended to July 15 to align with the new delayed federal tax deadline. This extension, in addition to the expected reduction in revenues, brings the total projected shortfall to $353 million until the end of the fiscal year. Unlike the federal budget, the state is constitutionally required to balance our state budget. The Governor also called for a Special Legislative Session so lawmakers can begin to grapple with the state budget shortfall. The Special Session will begin very soon though he did not announce a date. It is unclear if or how this budget shortfall will impact public education in Arkansas. AEA will be working with state officials as this develops. In addition, the 2020 Fiscal Session is still set to begin April 8.
MAJOR UPDATE (3/20/20): Today, Education Secretary Johnny Key announced that Arkansas is canceling the administration of ACT Aspire for this spring and will submit a waiver to the federal government to do so. This will also impact other assessments including K-2 assessments and Dynamic Learning Map assessment.
Key stated canceling ACT Aspire will have a "significant” impact over the long term on the state’s student growth measure. This is because the test results are being used to develop a longitudinal system for accountability, and taking several pieces of data out of that creates a cascading effect.
Key also announced that education officials are working with Arkansas PBS to develop a series of resources for K-8 students. Following Spring Break, Arkansas PBS plans to shift their morning programming to accommodate the airing of these resources.
Key said school districts that don't have the capacity to bring teachers back in to develop lessons or get lessons back in can rely on core subjects that state education officials and Arkansas PBS have developed.
For grades 9-12, the state is partnering with Virtual Arkansas which is developing resources to be delivered through a variety of media beginning after Spring Break.
In addition, the state is Identifying "safe learning zones" where students can go to school parking lots where wi-fi is accessible. ADE asks local broadband providers to work with local school districts to create opportunities for students to get hot spots or expand their services. He said these resources are still in development, it's messy and will continue to be for some time.
Secretary Key also made it clear that the lack of testing this year will not impact school funding. Governor Hutchinson added, “We are in the same position as every other state in the country. All of education is challenged this year."
UPDATE (3/19/20): Today, Governor Hutchinson announced K-12 schools will remain closed for on-site instruction until at least April 17. State education officials are looking at all options regarding state testing and are in ongoing conversations with the US Department of Education about federal assessment requirements.
AEA is also in contact with state education officials and we anticipate more updates on assessments soon.
The Governor also announced that 62 Arkansans have tested positive for coronavirus. Yesterday, the number was 33. He noted that the spike in cases was at least in part due to the growing capacity to test for the virus as well as a concerning trend of community spread.
UPDATE (3/18/20): This afternoon, Governor Hutchinson announced 11 new positive cases of COVID-19, the largest single-day increase yet, bringing the total number identified in Arkansas to 33. In addition, the Governor said he expects the number of positive cases to increase and warns that we should not have a "false sense of security."
The Governor confirmed that most of the cases in Arkansas are related to foreign and domestic travel. He requested that everyone rethink the risk of travel ahead of Spring Break, including domestic travel.
UPDATE (3/17/20): This morning Governor Hutchinson held a press conference to update Arkansans on the COVID-19 response in Arkansas.
He announced that there have been no additional positive COVID-19 reported in the state. The total cases identified in Arkansas remains at 22. Six of the positive cases are healthcare workers.
Governor Hutchinson noted that he still anticipates that schools will reopen on March 30.
Also at today's press conference, Secretary of Education, Johnny Key, recognized the tremendous job educators have done to adjust to a very difficult situation and recognized the important work happening to ensure delivery of meals to students.
Secretary Key also noted that state officials will be working with superintendents on what "reentry will look like," meaning the state will support school districts in what they would need to be ready for and how students and educators will cope. The Governor also issued an executive order, suspending some state laws for public schools.
He also noted that state education officials are working with the Health Department and following CDC guidelines around public school students and staff that are deemed “medically fragile.” Key said his Division is encouraging districts to use flexibility with respect to these staff and students. He also plans to advise state auditors of those recommendations. This is an effort to make sure decisions made to prevent the spread of illness, or for the safety of medically fragile students and staff, will not be held against districts during the state auditing process.
In addition, the Governor announced that in the event of any layoffs in Arkansas, the State will waive the following unemployment insurance requirements for the next 30 days:
- Waiving the delay in receiving UI benefits which should make benefits immediately available
- Waiving the in person application process: Apply for unemployment benefits online
- Waiving the requirement to seek other opportunities
UPDATE (3/16/20): Today Gov. Hutchinson held a press briefing where he announced 6 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in AR. He praised educators across the state for their prep work and ongoing efforts to make sure students have their needs met. We will continue to update as needed.
This afternoon Governor Hutchinson announced that he has authorized individual school district superintendents to choose to close schools for in person instruction on Monday, March 16, if they opt to do so. Beginning Tuesday, all Arkansas public schools will be required to close for in person instruction through Spring Break.
He also announced that 4 additional COVID-19 cases have been confirmed since his last press update yesterday afternoon.
We will continue to update this post as new information becomes available.
UPDATE (3/14/20): Governor Hutchinson just concluded a press conference with additional COVID-19 information. He announced that there are 3 additional "presumed positive" COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. This brings the total to 12 positive cases in Arkansas thus far. He made no additional announcements related to public schools or school closures.
UPDATE: (3-13-2020) - Today, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that 3 additional "presumptive positive" cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Arkansas.
He did not announce any additional school closures as of today.
Education Secretary Johnny Key said that the state can adjust the testing window if necessary. He noted that a change in testing schedules could mean a delay in results and that the Department of Education is looking at all options for testing requirements.