FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – As new COVID-19 cases become less frequent, many schools in northwest Arkansas are dropping their mask mandates.

According to the department of health, masking is still the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19… but it is hard to pinpoint when schools should drop the mandate.

Some school districts in our region decided to end their mandate once number of cases per 10,000 people dropped to the 20-29 range based on ACHI reports.

Dr. Joel Tumlison with the ADH said while that is better than it has been recently, it is still not a very reassuring number.

“Certainly getting out of the red zone on our map looks good but those are still fairly high levels of community spread,” he said. “They’re no where near as bad as they were, so it is safer than it was but it’s not in an overall sense as if there aren’t cases circulating in the community.”

We also know schools may not be able to rely on information about red zones and cases per school district from now on because ACHI may not be sending the case report map anymore.

A letter was sent to superintendents that said,

Dear Superintendents,

While the threat of COVID-19 is still actively present in our communities, it will be a relief for you to know for most of our communities the number of active of cases of COVID-19 is declining. With this most recent surge waning, testing numbers are also declining. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) strives to provide an accurate representation of new infections in the state. When testing numbers declined in mid-February, ACHI suspended displaying new infection rates on our dashboard because overall testing numbers did not provide adequate surveillance. Overall state testing numbers are approaching the low levels of February and March. Unless the situation changes, ACHI will likely suspend our dashboard reporting of school district, ZIP code and community level cases in the coming weeks. We will maintain our reporting of vaccination rates and other relevant indicators.  A few districts are using the ACHI dashboard and new infection rate estimates to establish thresholds for requiring masking of students and staff. While the testing rates in many communities have steadily declined in recent weeks, we can make available calculations of new known infection rates for districts upon request. As testing rates continue to decline and home tests become more available, new infection rates should interpreted with caution as they may not fully represent the true level of risk in local communities. We salute the leadership of local schools, staff, and students for all the efforts to keep school communities healthy while educating Arkansas youth. If ACHI can be a resource for you for COVID-19 information or other health issues, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.  “