FARMINGTON -- Farmington School District reinstated its indoor mask mandate on Friday in response to a higher covid infection rate of the population within its district boundaries.
Jon Laffoon, superintendent of schools, had already prepared staff, students and parents about the possibility of returning to a mask mandate in a letter issued earlier in the week.
Laffoon warned the school community about the rising covid-19 cases in the state and how that might affect the district in the near future.
Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases increased everyday last week, setting records on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, according to information released by the Arkansas Health Department. The state hit a new record on Friday with 8,400 new confirmed cases.
In a Zoom meeting with health department officials last week, Laffoon said school superintendents were told to expect a surge in the next six weeks and that the state would "see cases like we've never seen before."
Laffoon said he was discouraged by the report from the health department but noted Farmington school employees know what they can do as far as putting in mitigation strategies to slow the rate of infection as much as possible.
"You have to keep everyone as safe as possible," Laffoon said, noting his experience is that when the infection rate is high in a community, rates will go up in the school environment.
"Safety is our top priority," he said.
The district's mask advisory policy requires students and staff to wear facemasks while indoors if the school district reaches 50 or more infections per 10,000 people as a precaution against the spread of covid-19.
On Jan. 3, the Farmington School District community had 80 infections per 10,000 people, according to a report issued last week by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI). This jumped to 234 infections per 10,000 people in an updated report sent out Monday by the center for health improvement.
To respond to the rising positive covid cases, Farmington School District returned to its daily screening for students and staff on Jan. 5. The district now is requiring students and staff to fill out the online screen tool each morning before arriving on campus.
The screen asks questions about any symptoms being exhibited by a student or staff member, if they have had close contact with a confirmed covid-19 case or if they have tested positive for covid-19 within the past 14 days. The questionnaire then is submitted to school nurses and the school's covid point of contact for any further action.
In addition, schools last week increased their daily disinfecting for high-touch areas and began once again to sanitize facilities daily with electrostatic fog machines, Laffoon said.
Social distancing will be used as much as possible and students and employees will continued to be encouraged to wash or disinfect their hands frequently.
Farmington School Board approved a district mask advisory policy at its Sept. 27, 2021, meeting. The policy provides guidance about the use of covid-19 precautions based on positive cases within the district boundaries.
The district is using covid-19 data from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement to guide administration in making decisions on whether masks are optional, optional but recommended or mandated.
Laffoon's letter to the district notes that the center for health improvement reported 29 cases per 10,000 people for the Farmington School District on Dec. 27, which is considered a low risk by the center. (This includes people living within the district boundaries, not just students and staff.)
Farmington's mask policy says masks will be mandatory if infection levels are at a high risk, or 50 or more cases per 10,000 people. For moderate risk, which is 30-49 infections per 10,000 people, masks are optional but recommended for Farmington students and staff. A low risk is 10-29 cases per 10,000.
According to ACHI, Farmington School District has gone from 19 cases per 10,000 people on Dec. 20, 29 cases per 10,000 people on Dec. 27, 80 cases per 10,000 people on Jan. 3, and 234 cases per 10,000 people on Jan. 8.
Farmington's district website on Tuesday morning for its covid dashboard showed there are 84 covid infections for students with 174 students in quarantine and 16 staff members with covid infections and 16 staff members in quarantine.
Prairie Grove School District has gone from 26 cases per 10,000 people on Dec. 20, 36 cases per 10,000 people on Dec. 27, 57 cases per 10,000 people on Jan. 3 and 183 cases per 10,000 people on Jan. 8. Superintendent Reba Holmes on Friday said there has not been any discussion yet about a mask mandate.
Mary Ann Spears, superintendent of Lincoln Consolidated School District, said Lincoln's case numbers for students and staff are still low. She said school officials would continue to monitor cases for now. Lincoln had 103 cases for 10,000 people on Jan. 8, according to the ACHI report issued Monday.