The Parkers Chapel School Board voted to implement a mask requirement for district students during a special-called meeting Sunday afternoon.
Starting today, students of all ages, staff, faculty and campus visitors will be required to wear a face mask indoors and on school transportation.
The decision follows a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases locally and throughout the state and nation.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, a health policy organization, reported on Thursday that in the period from Dec. 20, 2021 to Jan. 3, between 50 and 99 new COVID cases were identified int he PCSD's area. The same was true for the Smackover-Norphlet School District, which implemented its own mask mandate on Jan. 6, and the Strong-Huttig and Junction City school districts.
More than 100 new cases were identified in the El Dorado School District's area during the same period. The ESD is also currently requiring that students, staff, faculty and visitors wear masks.
Additionally, according to a report on active COVID cases in schools produced by the Arkansas Department of Health on Thursday, 13 active cases were reported in the PCSD on Jan. 7. Eighty-six cases had been identified in the district so far this school year as of Thursday.
The ESD, SNSD, and JCSD all ended the school week with active cases as well, according to the ADH report.
Local COVID-19 case numbers weren't available at press time Sunday, but from Sunday, Jan. 2 through Saturday, Jan. 8, 506 new cases were identified in Union County, and the local positivity rate was 26.7%, meaning that more than a quarter of those who were tested for the virus last week turned up positive.
Statewide, between Monday, Jan. 3 and Sunday, Jan. 9, 42,750 cases had been identified. Single-day increases in cases topped 8,000 twice last week.
Also on Friday, Lisa Antoon, a spokesperson for Medical Center of South Arkansas, said 13 people were being treated for COVID-19 at the hospital.
"We encourage all members of the community to take precautions. Wear a mask in public, stay at home when you are sick, and get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. Vaccines remain the best strategy for reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our community," Antoon said.
She also noted that the hospital received an allocation of 12 monoclonal antibody treatments, which are meant to help high-risk COVID patients stay out of the hospital, from the state last week.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that hospitalizations in children too young to get vaccinated has increased substantially as cases have surged across the United States. According to the AP, the hospitalization rate in those too young to get vaccinated was more than 4 in 100,000 children, up from 2.5 in 100,000 previously recorded.
The AP also reported that the hospitalization rate for children 5 to 17 years old is about 1 in 100,000, per the CDC.
PCSD students will be allowed to take their masks off when participating in outdoor activities, athletic activities or while actively eating or drinking; but masks will be required at indoor athletic events.
The Test to Stay program, which allows students to remain in the classroom after a COVID exposure so long as they test negative for the virus and wear a face mask for the period they would have had to quarantine, remains in place and is not superseded by the district's new mask policy.
According to the district's website, the mask policy will be reviewed during the board's regular meeting in February.