LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement announced January 5 in a single week, the number of Arkansas public school districts with COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period has seen a nearly five-fold increase. The state went from 28 school districts to 138.

According to a news release from ACHI, the number of districts at this high level of community spread is not a record, but the week-to-week increase is the largest on record.

“Arkansas is experiencing uncontrolled spread of the omicron variant,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “Arkansans need to take immediate precautions, and local school leaders need to take actions to protect our children.”

Thompson urged all school districts to require masks for students and staff encourage vaccination, and redouble efforts at social distancing, hand washing, and increased ventilation. ACHI says school leaders should also be prepared to transition to virtual learning.

“We are seeing an explosion as Omicron surges across our state,” Thompson said.

On ACHI’s map, 50 to 99 infections per 10,000 residents are shaded red and 100 or more infections per 10,000 residents is shaded purple.

Of the 138 districts in the red zone, 39 are in the purple zone. This is an increase of five from the previous week.

The color-shading of a district is based on infections among community residents living within the geographical boundaries of each school district and not on cases among school employees and students.

The release says known infections reported by ACHI include confirmed and probable cases. Probable cases are based on verbal reporting and antigen test results, as identified by the Department of Health.

Infection rates and counts are not shown 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.

Dr. Thompson also said he is worried about hospitalizations spiking next week and the possibility of hospitals having to start cancelling elective procedures.

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 Monday.

The release says 21 school districts have achieved vaccination rates of at least 50% of district residents. Bentonville is at 61%.

ACHI’s full news release regarding the record increase can be viewed in the video above.