The approaching winter brings many concerns for COVID-19. Among them is how to properly practice social distancing and maintain safeguards as the weather prevents outdoor spaces from being utilized. Indications across Siloam Springs, with cases at a local nursing home and school closures, raise concerns for combatting the pandemic in close-knit communities.
On Thursday, Nov. 5, Arkansas hit a new record high for a single-day increase of the virus with 1,548 new confirmed and probable cases, according to 40/29 News. “We are concerned with the trends we are seeing right now. We are preparing for those. We are trying to prepare beds to be able to accommodate an increase, an influx of COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Jason McKinney of Mercy Clinic Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine said in an interview with 40/29 News.
Siloam Springs City Administrator Phillip Patterson released a memo on Nov. 10 warning residents about the rise in cases. “The City has recently been receiving complaints that many businesses … are not enouraging or requiring the wearing of masks per Governor Hutchinson’s order. Many … have stated that they no longer feel safe shopping in the City and will not continue to do so…” Patterson wrote.
The memo stated that the number of positive cases for Siloam Springs has increased by 50% in the past two months. “It is imperative that everyone does their part to continue to comply with the Governor’s declarations by requiring the wearing of mask, providing social distancing, and practicing good hygiene,” Patterson wrote.
Siloam Springs Nursing and Rehab had “24 active resident cases and two resident deaths” from Oct. 16 to Oct. 31, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A Nov. 3 report from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) listed 59 cumulative cases and 11 deaths. The Nov. 6 ADH report does not have the facility listed. The facility declined a request for comment.
As of Nov. 9, there are 18 active cases in the Siloam Springs School District, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Northside Elementary School, which houses the preschool and kindergarten, closed from Nov. 2 to Nov. 13 due to “several Northside Elementary faculty members hav[ing] tested positive for COVID-19,” according to a press release from SSSD on Oct. 31. The school will reopen on Monday, Nov. 16. Northside was previously closed on Oct. 16, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Shane Patrick, assistant superintendent of the Siloam Springs School District, said, “We have an understanding with our parents. We put out information at the beginning of the year and our employees … that when they test positive or have symptoms, they are to contact us and let us know. That’s what they did.”
While there is not a margin of cases for a school to close, Patrick said that “it comes down to making sure that one, that it’s safe. We consult with the Department of Health and the Department of Education. We discuss the situation and every building is different … It’s also ‘Do you have enough adults available to run the school effectively and keep it safe for the students that are still there?’ When we hit 13 total faculty members that were affected and 58 students that were affected, we felt that it was time to shut it down and make sure that we don’t spread this any further.”
On Nov. 7, the district announced that Siloam Springs Intermediate School, which houses the fifth and sixth grades, would be closed from Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, and, due to the following week being Thanksgiving break, the school will not reopen until Nov. 30. The school closures are “an effort to help control the spread of the virus in our school and community,” according to the press release.
One of the sons of Trisha Posey, professor of history and director of the Honors Scholars Program at John Brown University, attends fifth grade at the intermediate school. Posey shared that, earlier in the school year, the district had encouraged families to be prepared for the school to close if cases got too high. “We knew it was a possibility, but that was all we knew. We didn’t have any specific information about what it would look like to go virtual, but on Saturday afternoon they said very clearly, ‘We will be in touch with you as soon as it’s ready to go,’” Posey said. “I feel like their communication has been really good with their families.”
Reassuring parents on the safety of their children is a top priority of the school district. “We feel like we’ve done a really good job throughout this year with our district. We’ve only had two confirmed cases where someone who tested positive actually passed it to somebody that we could trace that they gave it to somebody at school,” Patrick said. “We feel really good about our procedures that are in place. We reassure parents and are open with them from the get-go. We put a lot of things in place, trained our staff and faculty on how to deal with all of this. We’re going to continue to do the best that we can.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a Nov. 10 memo from Phillip Patterson, Siloam Springs City Administrator
Photo courtesy of 5News