LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement urges sheltering in place for at-risk families, masking in all school districts, and virtual for some, as it is reported 97% of districts have high COVID-19 infection rates.

A record 226 public districts of the state’s 234 contiguous districts have COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period, the ACHI said Monday, Jan. 10.

ACHI made a special update to the COVID dashboard on its website, to show the accelerated spread of the virus. Pink was a newly added color to the maps, 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% of the district’s population, according to the news release.

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).

In some districts, more than 4% of residents in the local community are known to be infected.

“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.”

In the face of the immediate threat posed by 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.

According to the release, 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.

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, the release said.

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, which could lead to a higher number of infections than reported.

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, Jan. 8.

23 school districts have achieved vaccination rates of at least 50% of district residents, with Bentonville being the only one over 60% (61%).