LITTLE ROCK — Students throughout Arkansas on Monday headed back to class, online and in person, as the state’s coronavirus deaths continued to rise but hospitalizations dropped.

The Department of Health on Monday said at least 56,894 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase of 320 new confirmed cases. The department said 5,509 of those cases are active ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered.

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 state reported nine more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total number of fatalities from the illness caused by the virus to 696. The number of people hospitalized fell by 34 to 466. One of the deaths occurred in July but was reported late.

Monday marked the third day in a row the state’s new cases have dropped since Friday, when it reported 887 new confirmed infections. That day, the state also reported its biggest one-day increase in deaths since the pandemic began.

Public schools throughout the state resumed classes, despite objections from teachers’ and pediatricians’ groups. Although schools are allowed to offer online classes or a hybrid approach that includes some onsite classes, the state is requiring them to be open five days a week for students who need in-person instruction.

State Education Secretary Johnny Key on Monday urged districts to follow the guidelines for preventing the virus’s spread and said that will ensure a successful school year.

The Woodlawn School District announced late Sunday night it was delaying the start of school so its staff could receive COVID-19 testing. Key said the district had a positive case among its food service workers and six others who were exposed. Key said classes were expected to resume at Woodlawn on Wednesday.

Key said there was one employee tested positive at the KIPP Delta Early Learning Academy and 26 others who were close contacts. Key said the school is working with the education and health departments to prepare a plan going forward.

“Do I expect we’ll see more of this? Yes, but if it’s only one positive here and there and we can control it, that’s what we want do to,” he said. “That’s why we put the precautions in place so districts can handle it and be successful at it.”

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