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ACHI: 97 percent of School Districts Have High COVID-19 Infection Rates

A record 226 Arkansas public school districts, or 97 percent of the state’s 234 contiguous school districts, have COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said Monday, citing its analysis of Arkansas Department of Health data current as of Saturday.

ACHI made a special update to the COVID-19 dashboard on its website Monday in response to the accelerated spread of the virus. ACHI also added a new color, pink, to the maps on the dashboard, available at, to signify an infection rate of 200 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over the past 14 days, or at least 2 percent of the district’s population. In some districts, more than 4 percent of residents in the local community are known to be infected.

In the face of the immediate threat posed by the explosion of the omicron variant across Arkansas communities, ACHI calls for the following short-term actions:

implementation of masking requirements for all staff and students in all schools across the state;

virtual instruction for schools in the purple and pink zones;

sheltering in place for seniors, families with unvaccinated children, and families with members who are immunocompromised or at risk because of health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes or cancer; and suspension of public interactions or implementation of virtual options where possible on the part of municipalities, businesses and houses of worship.

“Because of the highly infectious omicron variant, COVID-19 is raging uncontrolled across our state,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “Unfortunately, we need to endure some temporary disruptions in our daily lives so we can stop the virus’ spread.”

The previous record for school districts with 14-day COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents was 201, which was reached last January and again in August.

Of the 226 districts with 14-day infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents, 61 districts have 50 to 99 new known infections per 10,000 residents (red on ACHI’s map); 110 districts have 100 to 199 new known infections per 10,000 residents (purple); and 55 districts have 200 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents (pink).

The infection rates reported by ACHI are based on infections among community residents living within the geographical boundaries of each school district and not only on cases among school employees and students.

Known infections include confirmed and probable cases. Probable cases are based on verbal reporting and antigen test results, as identified by the Department of Health. Reported rates do not include results from at-home testing, thus the true level of infections is likely higher than that reported.

Infection rates and counts are not reported for districts with fewer than five reported infections to reduce the possibility of identifying individuals. School district counts do not include infections among incarcerated populations, in nursing homes, or in human development centers.

ACHI also updated the maps and tables on its website displaying vaccination rates by public school district, community, and ZIP code, using Department of Health data current as of Saturday. Twenty-three school districts have achieved vaccination rates of at least 50 percent of district residents, one of them over 60 percent: Bentonville, at 61 percent.

ASU students study pollinators

BEEBE--Students in ASU-Beebe’s Special Topics in Biology class had a unique opportunity to participate in an in-depth research project this spring. Students designed an experiment from conception to conclusion to examine the impact of landscape type on bee pollinator abundance and diversity.

Dr. Jake Marquess, professor of biology, and Meredith Gordon, assistant professor of biology, said they wanted the class to offer students the opportunity to participate in the full research process that undergraduate and graduate students at a four-year university would go through with a direct relation to biology.

“Typically, students at a two-year college don’t get research opportunities,” Gordon said. “Even in a four-year university setting, research projects are reserved for seniors or students in specialized fields. We wanted to provide the opportunity for our students to have that same type of experience.”

Students conducted the experiment between April 5, 2021 and April 19, 2021. They predicted that bee pollinator species would be more abundant and diverse in a more uniform plant habitat than in diverse plant habitats. The group wanted to focus their project on a topic that had an element of community interest and one that could be conducted on campus a couple of hours per week.

“Our challenge was that we didn’t have a lot of time or resources. This was our first time teaching this course, so in many ways this project was very authentic. Students had to develop everything including the methodology, how to identify the plants and bees, and what information was important to include,” Marquess said.

Gordon said the group selected two areas on campus, one with similar plant life, and another with more diverse plant life to observe. Gwenevere Marchant and Madison Layes were two of the students who participated in the project. Marchant said students would observe the designated areas for an hour to an hour and a half. One student was charged with sighting a bee, while another would photograph the bee. Data such as the weather, time, and type of bee were recorded.

“It was strenuous, but a good process,” Marchant said. “It increased not only my appreciation for the bees but also the other students. We developed some great relationships.” She added the project exposed her to numerous resources such as online database that she was previously unaware were available to students.

Marchant said the students researched different methodologies to see if they could incorporate them into their project. “We did a lot of troubleshooting to see if they would work for us. We learned a lot through this process that we didn’t use in the project,” she said. Marchant earned her Associate of Science degree in Biology from ASU-Beebe and is now working toward a bachelor degree in Biology from the University of Central Arkansas. She hopes to work with the Arkansas Wildlife Division, as well as freelance as a wildlife illustrator.

Layes said that while she is not a fan of bees, the class gave her a new appreciation for the pollinators. “At first, I had no interest in plants or bees, but now I have an appreciation for them. We have a big impact on insects and their environments. Even our small group with this project, we are impacting the environment,” she said. Layes plans to attend pharmacy school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science next fall. She said she felt the Special Topics in Biology course was applicable to all students no matter their degree focus. “No matter what your degree you’re working toward, you will have to do some sort of research. I think this class gave me a better understanding of the research process,” she said.

Marchant echoed Layes’s words, saying that she would recommend the class to any student. “It was fun and interesting. This class is probably the one I am most thankful for and will use in my career in the future,” she said.

Pardon our progress...

Razorbacks head basketball coach Eric Musselman encourages his team to block out for a rebound.

Entry, visitation limited at VA hospital amidst surge

Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System is closing the south entrance to John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital Jan. 11, ahead of the planned construction closure in March due to the current surge in COVID-19 positives and cases pending results.

McClellan, like other hospitals in Arkansas, is experiencing a marked increase in in-patient positives, staff illnesses, and investigations into illnesses that may be COVID. Staff resources throughout the hospital are being dedicated to bringing the surge under control and to Veteran care. Early closure of the south entrance will free up needed staff and ensure Veteran safety.

The new main entrance project at McClellan is underway with some solar panels being relocated to CAHVS’ Fort Roots campus. A nine-month closure of the south entrance was slated to begin March 1 but will now start tomorrow. The entrance will remain open to emergency egress until construction begins in March.

CAVHS recently took proactive measures to protect Veterans and staff by returning to our ELEVATED status visitation policy. Entry to facilities is limited to Veterans with scheduled appointments, procedures or other essential business that cannot take place by any other means, including virtually.

One caregiver over the age of 18 will be allowed to accompany the Veteran, if needed, and the caregiver will be directed to designated waiting areas. Social distancing is being observed throughout our facilities.

Service animals may accompany Veterans to outpatient appointments and must always remain under the care and control of the Veteran/caregiver.

Inpatients will be allowed one visitor over the age of 18 in the facility at a time. One to two visitor(s) over the age of 18 may be allowed into the Palliative Care Unit at a time.

Veterans and visitors to CAVHS facilities must be masked at all times, an FDA-approved mask will be provided if necessary.

CAVHS COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics are open in Little Rock and North Little Rock facilities. Research shows that COVID-19 vaccines and boosters offer good protection against the variant, and widespread vaccination can prevent unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations. We encourage all unvaccinated Veterans and their family member to get the vaccine either at a community vaccination clinic or the VA.

Grow your Own Groceries

The Cooperative Extension Service’s series of “Grow Your Own Groceries” online presentations will continue in 2022. The virtual classes connect Arkansans with agents’ expertise in growing, preparing, and preserving fruits and vegetables at home.

“We’ve had such a good response,” said Krista Quinn, agriculture agent with the Faulkner County Extension office, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “We get a lot of emails and sometimes even handwritten notes from people saying thank you. All the webinars are free, and I think it’s been filling a need. With the pandemic, we’ve got so many more people who are becoming interested in vegetable gardening or growing some kind of edibles in their home garden, so these programs really provide a lot of information about how to get started.”

During the last program year from October 2020 through September 2021, “Grow Your Own Groceries” hosted 21 live Zoom sessions, with over 8,500 registrants for the classes. Each registrant received an email following the program with a link to watch the recorded program and access to fact sheets and recipes. Many people opted to watch the recorded program rather than the live program.

Quinn added that the program provides information for gardeners of all types, skill levels, and with varying access to resources.

“Everybody has different resources,” Quinn said. “Whether people are growing in-ground, or in containers, or in raised beds, we try to give information on all of those.”

In each one-hour presentation, an agriculture agent or specialist will discuss the crop: how to select the right variety, how to grow it, and how to deal with common pests and problems. Then, a family and consumer science agent will discuss nutrition and food preservation and provide a cooking demonstration.

The first “Grow Your Own Groceries” class of 2022 will take place at noon on Thursday, Jan. 13, and the topic will be microgreens.

“The microgreens topic is fun because it’s an edible crop that people can grow indoors in the winter, or really any time of year,” Quinn said. “There’s not a lot of things that you can harvest in January.”

Last year, classes were offered on the first and third Thursday of each month, but as more in-person programming returns, Quinn said the webinars will now occur monthly.

While all dates and topics for this year’s series have not been finalized, Quinn said the classes will continue to focus primarily on single crops, with occasional presentations on more general topics. Quinn added that this year she hopes to offer a “Getting Started with Vegetable Gardening” session for beginners.

To register for the Grow Your Own Groceries: Microgreens presentation and get information about upcoming classes, visit You can also view all upcoming gardening events at -events-programs/