Schools in Arkansas, Missouri close amid Omicron surge

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 5:31 PM CST
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EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. (KY3) - Multiple schools across northern Arkansas and Missouri have closed for illness and staff shortages as COVID-19 cases rise from the Omicron surge.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement released data earlier this week showing that 97% of school districts report 50 or more new cases daily per 10,000 residents.

Several schools are utilizing what’s known as Alternative Method Instruction (AMI) days provided by the state to teach virtually and not have to make up for a day missed.

”Unfortunately we see just explosive spread across the state. We had to add a new color to our map with more than 200 or 2% per 10,000 newly infected,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, President and CEO of ACHI.

”But what was surprising was how it hit us so fast,” said Bryan Pruitt, superintendent of Eureka Springs Schools. “Just over night it just exploded at our campus.”

Many districts, like Harrison and Eureka Springs, already reimplementing mask mandates. Even North Arkansas College, which originally had the stance of not making masks required, implemented a temporary mandate this week after just being back in session for two days.

Some public schools even took steps to close for the rest of this week, hopeful the five-day break, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, will provide enough of a quarantine period to slow transmission.

‘When that happened we were like, ‘Okay we have to act and take care of our students,’” said Pruitt. “So we’re doing virtual learning today and tomorrow on our campus in Eureka springs.“

Eureka Springs was not alone, as Valley Springs, Bergman, Omaha, Marshall, Norfork, and Calico Rock School Districts also made the move to virtual the remainder of the week. Add Chadwick and Crane School Districts in Missouri.

”I’m okay with them making our kids where masks at school,” said one parent, who wished to remain anonymous. “I think that to implement this, its just so detrimental to the interaction part of our kids lives.”

While closed, Eureka Springs is utilizing “skeleton janitorial crews” to disinfect buildings. The district’s maintenance director Bryan Dickelman said teams are using diffuses and focusing on heavy traffic areas such as the cafeteria, restrooms, and commons areas.

”We’re not having an extracurricular activities or practices or anything on are campuses,” Pruitt explained. “We’ll keep our buildings disinfected and just let everything kind of refresh.”

Health professionals say mother nature may be a saving grace for several districts.

”What we need is a 12″ snowstorm just to shut everything down for about a week and break the back of transmission. Without the snow we still need to take those same steps and try to protect our kids, our teachers, and our community.”

North Arkansas College and districts like Eureka Springs, who hopes to be in person as soon as possible, will continue to wear masks in the coming weeks.

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