Coronavirus in Ark.: Gov. Hutchinson announces support of COVID-19 emergency leave for school employees

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Friday he supports a COVID-19 Emergency Leave for School Employees.

The proposal is to use $20 million from CARES Act funding.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key said the $20 million is an estimation. Key said they tried to estimate high because they don’t know how much they will need.

This is for the end of the calendar year, not the end of the school year.

If approved, it would allow for up to two weeks of paid leave.

It would be available for teachers and support staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

State officials say it can be used by school employees who must quarantine for coronavirus related reasons.

Key said the teachers and support staff can use this leave time before having to take sick days, FMLA or Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

According to Governor Asa Hutchinson, the CARES Act Steering Committee discussed the proposal this week and will probably consider the proposal next week.

As of Friday afternoon, there are 48,039 total COVID-19 cases and 521 deaths, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson. That is an increase of 1,011 cases and six deaths.

The governor said there were 14 counties that have more than 20 newly announced cases. Eight of the top counties with new cases are Pulaski County (182), Jefferson County (61), Craighead County (53), Mississippi County (44), Sebastian County (43), Washington County (41), Independence County (40) and Benton County (32).

Governor Hutchinson said the seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate is above 10% and needs to be reduced.

State officials say 523 people are currently hospitalized in Arkansas due to the coronavirus, which is an increase of nine from Thursday.

According to Secretary of Health Dr. José Romero, there was an increase of people on a ventilator in Arkansas due to the virus, bringing the total to 116.

State officials say there are currently 7,158 active cases of the virus in Arkansas.

The Secretary of Health said 40,360 people have recovered from the virus in the state, an increase of 805 from Thursday.

State officials say there were 6,224 tests completed Thursday.

According to Dr. Romero, the Arkansas Department of Health completed 2,007 tests, UAMS completed 349 and 3,778 were completed by commercial labs.

The total cumulative positivity rate is 8.7%, according to Romero.

Hutchinson also announced Friday that he signed an executive order clearly defining if you have a COVID-related concern about going to the polls that you will qualify for an absentee ballot.

The governor said this will allow county clerks to prepare ballots, without opening them, in advance so they can count them on Election Day. By law, ballots cannot be opened until 8:30 a.m. on Election Day.

Gov. Hutchinson read a letter from a third grader in Conway, who said his mom is a night-shift nurse and cannot help him and his sister with homeschool. The boys said in the letter it’s important for kids like him to go to school. In the letter, the third-grader asked the governor to safely keep schools open.

State officials say high school football can start contact drills on Saturday.

On Thursday, Secretary of Health Dr. José Romero and State Epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Dillaha encouraged Arkansans to get the flu vaccine.


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