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Coronavirus in Ark.: Gov. Hutchinson announces $10 million commitment to enhance student Wi-Fi access

Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Monday he will commit $10 million for Wi-Fi access points for students across Arkansas.

The money comes from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund.

Governor Hutchinson said the $10 million is all federal dollars.

Hutchinson said it will provide approximately 20,000 devices with up to 24 months of high-speed unlimited data.

Gov. Hutchinson said this will be free to students and their families as it is allocated.

The governor said the school districts will work with state-contracted vendors. Hutchinson said so far, At&T and T-Mobile have signed up and there could potentially be a third vendor.

The students will take the Wi-Fi units home, according to state officials.

Gov. Hutchinson said the devices will be distributed based on student population.

“The digital divide is real and is deep,” said Rivercrest School District Superintendent Sally Bennett.

Bennett said her school district has tried to provide help for students without internet access by equipping buses with access points, talking to providers and extending Wi-Fi access to parking lots, but says the announcement is monumental.

“For the first time since March, I don’t think that light at the end of the tunnel is a train,” said Bennett.

As of Monday afternoon, there are 39,447 total COVID-19 and 408 deaths in the state, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson. That is an increase of 824 new cases and seven deaths.

Dr. Jose Romero, acting Secretary of Health, said out of the 824 new cases, 814 are from communities and 10 are in correctional facilities.

According to Governor Hutchinson, the top six counties with new cases are Pulaski County (120), Washington County (62), Craighead County (46), Benton County (45), Sebastian County (30) and Jefferson County (29).

According to state officials, there are currently 6,674 active coronavirus cases in Arkansas.

State officials say 489 people are currently in Arkansas hospitals due to the coronavirus, an increase of nine.

Dr. Romero said there are 110 people on ventilators across the state due to the coronavirus, which is an increase of seven.

On Friday, there were 990 new cases.

There were 732 new cases on Saturday and there were 642 on Sunday.

State officials said there were 5,929 tests completed in the last 24 hours.

State officials say the department of health is doing around 1,900 tests a day.

The Arkansas Department of Health has ordered 200 BD Veritor testing equipment, machines and supplies for coronavirus tests. Governor Hutchinson said this is coronavirus antigen test systems. The governor said the order should start to come in next week. State officials say the purchase will help with the private lab backlog.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key said there is a Department of Education survey happening this week to assess school district’s readiness to start school in a few weeks. Key said the results will be posted on the division’s website for the public when it is completed.

Key also announced his department will use $1 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund from the CARES Act to purchase a strategic stock of personal protective equipment. This will go to a stockpile reserve if a district runs short on PPE.

The governor said on Tuesday, the legislative council will meet to consider approving funding to help with testing, contact tracing and follow-up for the Marshallese and Latinx communities.

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