As of March 30, based on decisions made by Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), some local schools will end their COVID-19 pandemic requirement to wear masks.
In place for the majority of the school year, the decision to end the mask mandate was further explained in a memorandum from South Pike Schools Superintendent Brad Sullivan.
“Throughout the pandemic, South Pike County School District has diligent complied with the directives of the Arkansas Department of Health, and we will continue to do so … effective April 1, 2021, masks will be optional to be worn by students, staff or visitors when on SPCSD campuses.”
The memo said all other ADH directives will be in effect until lifted, including safety and sanitation practices that include disinfecting all school facilities nightly, providing hand sanitizer throughout the schools, encouraging hand washing and emphasizing social distancing.
The memo states that the Center for Disease Control continues to recommend that masks be utilized when social distancing cannot be maintained.
“We support this recommendation,” said Sullivan in the memo.
“Although masks will no longer be required but will be optional, we encourage everyone to consider wearing a mask whenever in close contact with other people … students, staff and visitors are welcome to continue to wear their masks at school and school events.”
The memo also stated that the policy on quarantining had changed — now, should an individual come into contact with someone who is COVID positive, they will not have to quarantine due to both parties having worn their masks.
Should things change, Sullivan said that the school would reverse course as needed.
“We do reserve the right to reinstate the previous masks mandate if we see a change in local or state positive cases.”
District COVID ADH point of contact Tanya Wilcher said that up to and since spring break the South Pike County Schools have had zero cases, absences and quarantines due to the virus.
In response to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s announcement on Tuesday, March 30, Dierks Superintendent Jody Cowart said the district will lift the mandate that requires students and staff to wear a mask. “Although masks will no longer be required, students and staff may opt to continue wearing them for their own personal safety. We will continue following existing safety and sanitation practices already in place, such as encouraging hand washing, providing hand sanitizer in our buildings, emphasizing social distancing, and all other Arkansas Health Department guidelines.”
The Centerpoint School District in northern Pike County will make a decision about masks at their next school board meeting.
“In light of the governor’s announcement about changes in the COVID protocols statewide, the Centerpoint School District’s Ready For Learning committee will review all current COVID protocols found in the district’s Ready For Learning plan, (www.goknights.us/289530_2) and will provide recommendations to the school board at the April 12th board meeting.
Prior to that meeting, we will provide an opportunity for public comment as well. Until that April 12th meeting, all of our current COVID protocols, including wearing face coverings and social distancing when possible, are still in effect.”
The Kirby School District has announced they will also cease the mask mandate via a post on the district’s Facebook page.
“The Governor and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have allowed each school district to make a decision that best suites each district regarding the proclamation given by the Governor.
“With that being said, Kirby School District effective Wednesday, March 31, 2021 will allow parents, staff, students the option whether to wear a mask or not. These are personal decisions made by each individual and will be respected in whatever choice the individual makes.
This decision has not been taken lightly and conversations have been taking place with our district administration, school board, POC, and Ready for Learning Team for many weeks now. Kirby School District will continue to follow state guidelines concerning safety protocols such as sanitizing, social distancing, etc. We hope this is one of many steps in getting our schools and your students back to normalcy.”
The Blevins School District is still in the decision making process regarding masks, and school district residents are asked to complete a survey to help in the process.
“On March 31, 2021, Governor Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Health lifted the mandatory mask mandate. All Arkansas School Districts now have the option to keep current policies pertaining to masks or make masks optional for the remainder of the current school year. Your feedback is important to us and we would like to include your thoughts in our decision making process. Please complete the survey by April 8, 2021.”
The survey can be found at docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfsQtSS7cSyFU99OzgmnIxVM1spn04if3E9hL-6LXd35f_3ww/viewform?fbclid=IwAR2mv0Ap0q7be64TwHxA4oWNRU5c4eS-RFpywr6UT-mzBDINHz8M4frRb2U and a link can be found on the district’s Facebook page.
Nashville School District Superintendent Doug Gram has announced that all COVID-19 policies, including masks and social distancing, will remain in place through the remainder of the academic year.
The Mineral Springs School District is taking a more cautious approach, holding the mask mandate in place through the current school year.
“With the end of the school year eight weeks away, the Mineral Springs School District will continue its current practice of requiring teachers, students, and visitors to wear masks and implementing all other safety precautions that were included in our Ready for Learning Plan.
“At a later date, our school board will re-evaluate the COVID 19 safety precautions for the 2021-2022 school year.”
UA Cossatot Chancellor Steve Cole said via Facebook he was happy but still wary currently as the school will maintain the status quo with a possible return to a bit more of normalcy in the summer semester in the school’s decision over masks.
“It is hard to believe but it has been one year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It seems that we are slowly getting back to normal and that moment can’t get here soon enough!
“While the trends in our area health conditions keep improving and more and more employees are being vaccinated, we still must see this thing through. Governor Hutchinson [has allowed] the state mask mandate to expire … while this is a great sign of a return to normalcy, UA Cossatot will maintain our current COVID-19 guidelines, which includes mask use and social distancing guidelines. I, like you, am ready to throw this mask away, but we will keep our guidelines in place until May 28th. This will allow more and more individuals who want a COVID-19 vaccine to receive one and will allow us a gradual return to normalcy.
“We fully expect our current optimism to turn into reality which will allow us a return to normalcy beginning with the summer semester. We have learned a lot about human resolve over the past year and we can indeed see a light at the end of this tunnel!”
Residents over 16 years of age are now all eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Peoples Pharmacy’s Brad Deal.
He said 16-17 year olds could opt for the vaccine produced by Pfizer, which is the only version approved for those under 18 years of age.
Those 18 of years and older can opt for vaccines produced by Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson or Moderna. The Johnson and Johnson version requires only a single dose, where the other two require a second vaccination three to four weeks later. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.gov) website, the full vaccination strength takes two weeks after your injection.
Deal said that those interested in receiving the vaccine can call the pharmacy at (870) 285-2111 to be put on an appointment list.
He noted the waiting list was becoming less and less as the age brackets have opened up.
Governor Asa Hutchinson’s daily report on Monday provided today’s update on Arkansas’s COVID-19 response, stating that the ADH reported 44 new cases; 1,607 active cases; 145 hospitalized, which is unchanged from Sunday; 23 on ventilators, which is down 1 from Sunday; deaths added today, 5, for a total of 5,648; a total of 331,098 cases; PCR tests, 1,337; antigen tests, 78.
Also, more than 1.8 million Arkansans had received a vacation.
“Today’s report shows another decrease in active cases and low new cases. Even though [Sunday] was Easter, we still saw an increase of over 8,700 vaccine doses administered.
“We’re making progress, and it’s important we all do our part by getting vaccinated,” said Hutchinson.