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Gov. Hutchinson eases quarantine requirements for K-12 students

This new guidance only applies to Arkansas K-12 schools, and not a daycare or higher education.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — At his weekly press briefing, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced changes to requirements of what type of COVID exposure constitutes quarantine in schools. 

From now on, a student only has to quarantine if they've been within three feet of someone with the virus for fifteen minutes. This is a change from the previous guidance of being exposed within six feet.

This new guidance only applies to K-12 schools, and not a daycare or higher education.

And while it aims to keep more kids in the classroom, an increased risk of transmission comes with it.

"We're giving a little bit on the perfect science in order to increase the opportunity for students to participate..." Gov. Hutchinson said, "...as a leader, you have to balance the risk and the losses."

Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero also shared support for the new guidance. 

Admitting that while it is not the ultimate safest option regarding virus transmission, they want to address the factors beyond physical health that contribute to a child's well-being in school.

"Children are suffering from not being in class, they have the psychological issues, they have the learning issues. And so we think this is a self-safe alternative at this time," Romero said.

The leadership team also pushed alternative methods to keep transmission low in schools, like vaccinations and mask-wearing. 

In the case of quarantine guidance, if all involved in a possible COVID exposure are masked, no student needs to quarantine. Quarantine also remains unnecessary for vaccinated students as well.

Regular COVID testing through participating schools in the state's pilot Test to Stay program also keeps students with no symptoms and that continue to test negative out of quarantine.

Tuesday the Governor extended that testing requirement beyond the classroom-- to extracurricular programs like sports teams and band practices as well. 

The initiative runs in select school districts, like Cabot.

Cabot Superintendent Tony Thurman said, "if we want to keep kids in English, Math, Science and Social Studies, we wanted to find a way, then, how can we have them participate in those activities as well."

Amidst these changes, Hutchinson plans to keep a close eye on case trends and push for vaccinations.

"Remember, vaccination is the most important tool to eliminate quarantines or to eliminate risk," Hutchinson said.

And while the FDA has not yet approved a COVID vaccine for children under age 12, Secretary Romero said he expects the option to be available next month.

Secretary of Education Johnny Key added that parents should stay vigilant about where they get their information about the upcoming vaccine.

"Don't go to Facebook, don't go to social media, and really talk to your doctor to get a good understanding of what it does, what it doesn't do, and how it impacts the health and well being every child," Key said.

And Key said he hopes the vaccine's release will continue to bring cases down in schools.