Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday said he signed an executive order extending the public health emergency for an additional 60 days.

“The pandemic has not abated; it has not gone away,” Hutchinson said at his daily covid-19 briefing. “In Arkansas we have over 500 deaths as a result of this pandemic, we have over 50,000 cumulative cases, we have over 6,000 active cases, and while we are making progress, we do remain in a state of emergency public health-wise and that is reflected in the emergency measures from tele-medicine approval to public health guidelines including limitations on capacity of certain businesses, and public events – indoor and outdoor.

Hutchinson also announced a directive with guidelines to schools for large outdoor and indoor venue plans for school-sponsored team sports as well as a directive for community and school sponsored music and theater. The guidelines are in the preceding linked text.

Hutchinson said football teams can continue their intrasquad scrimmages through the weekend. Pre-season scrimmage games against other teams can begin Monday.

The governor did, however, issue an admonition.

“Let’s not only start the season this year but let’s work to finish the season,” he said. “That’s what’s important and that’s going to take everyone’s help—from the coaches, to the staff, to the band leaders, to the choir directors—under challenging circumstances to make sure our students have this opportunity for those activities. But it also takes the parents because as they are on the sidelines they’ve got to be socially distanced. They’ve got to make sure we don’t contribute to the spread…”

Following Hutchinson’s remarks and the daily update of covid-19 cases, state Health Secretary Jose Romero said the state Department of Health is working on a plan to contain potential spread of the virus in schools.

He said if a student, teacher or staff member exhibits symptoms consistent with covid-19, they should go to a local county health unit for testing. Anyone who tests positive will go into the system for contact tracing. Negative tests will be backed up with a PCR test to confirm that negativity.

Romero said the state Health Department is also exploring the possibility of creating as many as 10 teams that can immediately be deployed to schools for mass testing of students in the event of an outbreak.

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