10:35 pm EDT, Friday, August 14, 2020
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas high school football stadiums will be limited to two-thirds capacity because of the coronavirus, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday, as thousands of parents urged the state to delay the start of in-person classes this fall.
Hutchinson issued new rules for school sports venues as the state reported 626 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and five more deaths. Under the new rules, spectators at school sports venues will have to keep a 6-foot distance between each other and will have to wear a mask if they’re at least 10 years old.
Hutchinson said he’s looking to the schools and their athletic officials to enforce the rules.
“We would expect the athletic directors or the superintendents would have people that would be there, not to be heavy handed, but to remind people that get excited in the game, ‘hey, spread apart, you’ve got to be six feet apart,’ or ‘wear your mask,'” Hutchinson said.
Bleachers will have to be restricted so that every other row is empty, a move that the directive said could actually put a venue’s capacity at 25% to 50%, the rule said.
The new rules mean school athletic facilities won’t have to get state approval beforehand to host games. The state currently allows large venues such as theaters and arenas to fill up to two-thirds capacity but requires state approval if there are more than 100 attendees.
A group of parents, guardians and community members also signed on to a letter sent to Hutchinson raising concerns about the state’s plan to resume school the week of Aug. 24. The state has said schools can offer virtual classes or a hybrid approach that also includes some classes onsite but that schools must open to students for in-person instruction five days a week.
“We are overwhelmingly concerned about schools reopening for in-person instruction, and are disappointed with the state’s current Ready for Learning plan, with its lack of adherence to (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and its failure to take into account the current state of rapid COVID-19 spread in our communities,” said the letter organized by a group called Arkansans for Safe Public Schools.
At least 4,500 people signed on to the letter, which was also published in a full-page ad in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Friday. The letter made several recommendations, including a phased-in approach to resuming in-person classes.
Hutchinson said the state has been working to address concerns and said the decision to delay the start of the school year by two weeks is helping schools prepare.
“Obviously we want to start on day one with in-classroom instruction and we think we have a good plan for that, but we welcome those ideas and we’ve responsive to many of those that we think are rightfully set forth,” he said.
The Little Rock Education Association on Friday night called on teachers in Arkansas’ capital city teach virtually rather than in-person when classes resume this month.
“We refuse to enter unsafe buildings that put our students and ourselves at risk of contracting COVID-19,” the group said in news release. “It is unethical and immoral to try to force us to do so.”
Hutchinson also signed an order extending the state of emergency due to the virus another 60 days.
The Department of Health reported at least 52,392 people have been confirmed as testing positive for the virus since the pandemic began in March. The department said 6,359 of those cases are active, meaning that the number of those who have died of the illness or recovered are excluded.
The department said 189 of the new confirmed cases come from correctional facilities.
The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The number of people who have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, rose to 587. The number of people hospitalized fell by seven to 466.
Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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