LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas’ public schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday, as a third lawmaker tested positive for the virus.Health officials said the number of infections in Arkansas rose to at least 875, up from 853 on Sunday. Sixteen people in the state have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
Hutchinson said there will be no more on-site instruction this year at public schools, which he had ordered closed until April 17 because of the virus.The governor said schools will continue to provide at-home instruction for students, including online lessons. Arkansas PBS has been broadcasting lessons for students in kindergarten through 8th grade.
“I know this is a hardship, but I think the teachers, parents and everyone is prepared for this,” Hutchinson said.
THIRD LAWMAKER TESTS POSITIVE
A third state representative said he tested positive for the coronavirus, days before the Legislature is set to meet for this year’s session.
Rep. Les Warren said his physician told him his positive test result on Sunday. He was self-isolating at home.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The Legislature is set to convene Wednesday for this year’s fiscal session, with the House planning to meet in the same 5,600-seat basketball arena they used for a special session last month. The Senate will meet at the Capitol, but is restricting how many members will be in the chamber.
Warren said he would vote by proxy.
ELECTIVE SURGERIES ORDER
The state’s top health official stopped short of saying whether a prohibition on elective procedures would halt abortions.
The Health Department on Friday issued a directive to all health providers, including abortion clinics, to reschedule procedures “that can be safely postponed.” Other states have moved to ban abortions using similar orders.
“Anything that can safely be deferred and postponed should be,” said Dr. Nathaniel Smith, the state’s health secretary. Smith said the order is not intended to replace a physician’s judgment.
An attorney for Little Rock Family Planning Services, the only clinic that performs surgical abortions in the state, said in a statement that it was complying with the directive but didn’t elaborate on whether it was still offering the procedure.
Planned Parenthood, which administers abortion-inducing medication at its Little Rock facility, said it was following Department of Health guidance.
“Our doors are open, and we are continuing to see patients at our health center for necessary care, with appropriate screening precautions in place,” Planned Parenthood Great Plains CEO Brandon Hill said in a statement.
CHINA OFFICE FUNDING TARGETED
An Arkansas lawmaker on Monday proposed ending the state’s economic development efforts in China in response to the pandemic, a move the governor called “shortsighted.”
The proposed amendment to the state Economic Development Commission’s budget would prevent the agency from spending money on a liaison or office in China.
“It shows a clear message our government is going to change our relationship with China,” said Garner, who cited China’s initial cover-up of the outbreak.
The commission has had an office in China since 2008 and this year has spent about $285,000 on it. But the commission’s spokeswoman, Alisha Curtis, said the agency already planned to scale that back by about $160,000 in the coming fiscal year to a liaison that will focus on existing Chinese business in Arkansas.
“Even though we might not have a physical office, we’ve got to have a presence there and be able to facilitate that relationship from a commerce standpoint in the future,” Hutchinson said.
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