Trump’s top coronavirus adviser says parties fueling spread
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s top coronavirus adviser on Monday said friends and families holding parties are driving the virus’s spread in the community, issuing the warning as outbreaks at some colleges around the country are being tied to large gatherings.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, urged people to wear masks and socially distance after visiting with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials, pointing to the gatherings as a particular concern. Arkansas’ Health Department on Monday reported 412 new virus cases and four more deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.
“We’re finding that the majority of community spread right now is happening from parties, either indoors or outdoors, where people are with their families or friends and believe there’s no one there ... that has COVID,” Birx told reporters outside the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. “And yet there is someone there that has the virus and they don’t know they have the virus because a significant number are asymptomatic.”
Colleges and universities around the country are scrambling to address new COVID-19 clusters as the fall semester begins. Some of those clusters are linked to off-campus parties and packed clubs.
Hutchinson said ensuring college students in Arkansas don’t have large parties like the ones Birx warned of is a challenge.
“This is where the universities need to educate and they also need to have a plan whenever a student doesn’t behave properly or carefully,” Hutchinson said.
Arkansas’ K-12 public schools are set to resume classes next week. Although schools are allowed to offer virtual classes or a hybrid option that includes some onsite classes, the state is requiring schools to be open five days a week for students who need in-person instruction.
Birx stopped short of weighing in on that approach, but said offering the students the option of virtual learning decreases the number of students in the classroom.
At least 53,077 people in Arkansas have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began in March, the Health Department said Monday. Of those cases, 6,341 are active ones where the person hasn’t recovered or died.
The true number of cases in Arkansas is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The number of COVID-19 deaths in the state rose to 603, while the number of people hospitalized increased by by eight to 486.
The Little Rock Education Association on Friday night called on teachers in the city to teach virtually rather than in-person, calling it “unethical and immoral” to force them to do so until cases subside.
Hutchinson and state Education Secretary Johnny Key on Monday criticized the union’s decision.
“While many students will be successful with online learning, it is unconscionable for the union to deny the benefits of in-person instruction to students who haven’t been in school since last March,” Key said in a statement.
A school board member from Dover, located 66 miles (107 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock, resigned his seat over the weekend in protest of the state requiring in-person classes to resume.
“While this outbreak accelerates, I do not think any safety measures we are capable of implementing in the close quarters of our schools will be sufficient,” Dr. Nathan Henderson said in his resignation letter. “I worry reconvening on-site instruction may worsen the outbreak in our area.”
Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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