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A-State seeing COVID-19 cases, NYITCOM keeping tight lid on numbers

A-State seeing COVID-19 cases, NYITCOM keeping tight lid on numbers

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JONESBORO — While COVID-19 testing and contract tracing is being offered on campus to Arkansas State University students, the results of those tests and number of students being traced were not being reported to university officials Thursday.

About 1,000 students have been tested at the student health center on campus, with 30 students testing positive, Dr. Shane Speights, dean of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, said at A-State during a COVID-19 town hall meeting on campus Thursday afternoon.

“Testing on campus is only part of the picture,” Speights said. “Students and faculty are being tested not only on campus, but around the corner at St.

Bernards Urgent Care, or by their primary care physician, or in their hometown, and we don’t have access to all those records.” Speights said a mass testing event would give officials a better perspective of the positivity rate on campus.

As of Thursday afternoon, A-State reported 172 active cases; 45 students living on campus, 118 students living off campus, and nine employees were reported to be infected, according to the university website.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state reported nearly 1,300 active coronavirus cases at its colleges and universities Thursday, as well as 525 in its public schools, during his daily coronavirus briefing.

The report detailed the rise in on-campus virus cases in a new report days after Arkansas’ top health official said the biggest growth in infections was coming from college-age people.

The vast majority of the active college cases are at the University of Arkansas’ main campus in Fayetteville, where officials have restricted on-campus activities and off-campus parties to combat the outbreak.

The state said there have been 2,585 cases total among public school students, faculty and staff since June 10.

As of Thursday morning, the number of tests performed on campus and the positive results were not being reported to Chancellor Kelly Damphousse or to the Arkansas State University System main office in Little Rock.

“I haven’t seen those numbers,” Damphousse said Thursday morning.

Thursday morning, NYITCOM at Arkansas State declined to share the on campus testing numbers, stating the college is a private school and is not subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, according to an email from Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the medical school. The state FOIA encompasses private organizations “in the state of Arkansas,” Little Rock attorney John E. Tull III wrote in an email Thursday.

“Although that section is for ‘public meetings’ there is some question as to whether an out-of-state entity is subject to Arkansas FOIA and there is no case law on that issue,” Tull stated.

Jeff Hankins, spokesman for the Arkansas State University System, replying to a Freedom of Information Act request, stated in an email Thursday that he did not have any reports from NYITCOM stating testing results beyond the information posted daily to A-State COVID-19 website.

Damphousse and Hankins both noted that A-State students and employees are using multiple sources of testing – not a campus-run clinic and not only NYIT – which makes it impossible for the university to compile and calculate total testing and rates for the university.

“Our daily reporting is based on the self-reporting form we’ve implemented with NYIT that focuses on positive, active cases. No entity is required to share negative test results with us, so without those from multiple sources we aren’t in a position to calculate

Continued on Page 11 STATE NEWS (cont.)

positivity rates,” Hankins said.

“My chief concern is the number of A-State students and employees who have tested positive for COVID19,” Damphousse said. “I know that number every day.”

Damphousse said having NYITCOM in charge of the contact tracing gave the university an advantage.

“A key for us has been the timeliness of the contact tracing; we can do that almost immediately.”

Speights said the system which NYITCOM has instituted for contact tracing has put the university ahead of the curve.

As an example of what the NYITCOM contact tracers are dealing with, a recent weekend saw 300 selfreporting forms were submitted. Contact tracers have to go through the forms, determine which cases are more significant, and then start their work from there. Of the 300 reports, 50 were deemed in need of immediate investigation, Speights said.

Speights said he wouldn’t rule out a mass COVID-19 testing event at A-State in the future.

“A mass testing event would give us the clearest picture of the positivity rate on campus,” Speights said, noting that in the meantime, the closest metric for campus positivity rate would be the county’s infection rate. “I would expect it to be very close to the county’s rate.”

Based on Thursday’s number of 2,178 active cases in Craighead County and the 2019 county population estimate of 110,332, the positivity rate is 1.97%.

Regardless of the numbers, Damphousse said he won’t be satisfied until A-State is free of COVID-19.

“I won’t be comfortable until the number of active cases is zero.”

***

CONWAY — Authorities believe two Forrest City residents are responsible for six aggravated robberies that occurred in Conway between July 26, 2019, through Sept. 4, 2019. The two men have since been charged in connection to a robbery that happened at a local pizza restaurant.

Online records show that Deonte Smith, 22, and Deandre Stone, 21, both of Forrest City are charged with three counts each of aggravated robbery, theft of property of property obtained by threat of serious physical injury and kidnapping after reportedly locking three Domino’s Pizza employees in a walkin freezer and stealing money from the safe on Aug. 15, 2019.

According to a probable cause affidavit, the suspects snuck up on one of the employees while he was outside throwing trash in a dumpster on the night in question.

The two men were armed with pistols that had extended magazines and demanded the employee give him any money he had in his pockets, according to a report.

After the employee handed the armed suspects the $9 he had, they walked him back to the store and asked him for the code to the safe. Smith and Stone ordered a manager to turn face the wall before they found out he knew the code to the safe, according to the report. At this point, they “grabbed [the manager] and walked him to the front of the store” and forced him to enter the code into the safe.

Smith and Stone allegedly took the manager’s wallet, which had his driver’s license and debit card in it, as well.

The Forrest City residents are also accused of taking $30 from one of the employees before forcing all three Domino’s workers into the walk-in freezer and locking the door behind them.

Domino’s staff said the suspects made off with about $1,000 that was in the safe, according to reports.

Seventeen days after the aggravated robbery, a landscaper found some of the items that were taken from one of the Domino’s employees on the night in question in front of a residence on Prince Street.

As Conway detectives worked to identify the suspects in this case, they began to compare the incident to other aggravated robberies reported between July 26, 2019, and Sept. 4, 2019.

“The Conway Police Department has investigated six aggravated robberies within our city over [a three-month period],” detective Lyle Peresko wrote in his report.

“Through our investigation, it is believed that the suspects are going to be the same ones performing each robbery. Examples of the same pattern being executed consist of the suspects making contact with the victims outside the establishment, forcing the victims inside the freezer as well as wearing similar type clothing and using weapons with extended magazines attached to them.”

The other investigations include aggravated robberies at a Popeye’s restaurant, a Dairy Queen, twice at the same Wendy’s and a Citgo gas station.

While investigating the series of robberies, one of the victims was able to name Stone as a possible suspect because he “repeated to her friend certain things that were discussed during one robbery along with what she was doing as they robbed her,” according to the affidavit.

The detective was able to compare cases with a Morrilton Police Department officer who was also investigating a similar robbery that happened in October 2019.

One of the suspects in both investigations was known to have a tattoo of the state of Arkansas that had the numbers “870” in it, which Stone is known to have.

According to the report, Stone was pulled over on Oct. 10, 2019, and found several clothing items in his vehicle that matched clothing descriptions given during several of the aforementioned robberies.

Authorities also noted that Smith and Stone posted photos of themselves with “stacks of money in their hands” following the robberies. Search warrants for cell phone data showed the suspects were outside Domino’s at the time the robbery occurred on Aug.

15, 2019, and that he was “traveling away from the area” after the incident.

Online records show that Smith, who is behind bars in lieu of a $250,000 bond, was arrested in July and that formal charges were filed against him on Aug.

28. Stone was formally charged on Aug. 31.

CPD spokesman LaTresha Woodruff said detectives worked diligently to identify the suspects in this case.

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