Traditional graduation on hold: State’s case total tops 3,000; Tyson outlines precautions

Thursday, April 30, 2020

By Scott Loftis

Traditional high school graduations in Arkansas will have to wait until at least July, state education secretary Johnny Key announced Saturday, April 25, citing concerns over COVID-19.

Key joined Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily briefing in the governor’s conference room to announce the decision.

“It’s an event of great celebration,” Key said. “It’s cherished by students, by educators, by families. We celebrate the accomplishments of these students but we also look forward to their opportunities in the future. In many communities, the high school graduation is one of the most attended, one of the largest events in the community in the whole year. When you have friends, family members coming from across the state, and in many cases coming from out of state, for a traditional graduation ceremony, we simply cannot mitigate sufficiently the risk of spread in a situation like that. … So as the governor said, the traditional high school graduation ceremonies are restricted prior to July 1.”

Key said state officials will study data related to the spread of the virus as July 1 approaches to determine if that timeline needs to be modified.

“But right now, we’re asking all of our schools not to plan any traditional high school graduations prior to July 1,” he said.

On Tuesday, April 28, Hutchinson announced that the state now has 3,111 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 52 deaths. The total number of cases includes 876 inmates and 50 staff members from the Arkansas Department of Corrections’ maximum-security Cummins Unit in Lincoln County southeast of Little Rock, according to state health secretary Dr. Nate Smith.

In Carroll County, two more cases have been confirmed within the past week, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, bringing the county’s total to four confirmed cases. One of those cases is listed as a recovery.

Lisa Holt, administrator for the Carroll County Health Unit in Berryville, said she had no details on the additional cases.

A spokesman for Tyson Foods, which operates poultry processing plants in Berryville and Green Forest, said Monday that the Springdale-based company was “not sharing specific numbers” regarding employee infections. Tyson last week suspended operations at its largest pork processing plant, in Waterloo, Iowa, as well as another pork processing plant in Logansport, Ind. Officials in Tennessee are monitoring COVID-19 clusters at two Tyson plants in that state, Nashville television station WZTV reported Monday.

“Since this is an ever-changing situation, we’re not sharing specific numbers,” Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson wrote in response to an email inquiry Monday. “If there is a confirmed case at one of our locations, we notify anyone who has been in close contact with the person. We also inform team members who have not been exposed and provide information to our supervisors so they can help answer questions.”

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