Arkansas high school football teams can begin non-contact team drills with helmets next week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in his regular coronavirus briefing at the State Capitol on Friday. The move comes after weeks of unclear messaging on the future of high school contact sports in the state this fall. The governor also announced the creation of a high school sports advisory group to begin work on Monday to create a plan for the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) to begin contact sports competition this Fall.

Additionally, the state will allow cheerleading practice and volleyball practice to begin next week, with band practice to potentially begin sometime next week after some tweaking to current guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health.

The governor said the current plan is to begin contact practices after next week’s non-contact drills, but the plan is subject to change.

He said the importance of high school sports on young people can’t be overstated.

“Sports is a very important part of the development of our youth,” the governor said.

AAA Executive Director Lance Taylor said athletes should take the mask seriously to ensure sports can happen.

“This [mask] is going to let us play this year,” Taylor said.

He added that athletes’ help will determine if fall sports happens.

“With [athletes’] help, we’re going to have fall sports,” Taylor said.

Since Thursday, the state has recorded 752 additional cases of COVID-19 for a total of 42,511 cumulative cases in the state since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 6,241 of those cases are currently active in Arkansas communities.

The state has recorded three additional hospitalizations for a total of 507, with 100 of the hospitalized patients currently on ventilators, a decrease of one since Thursday. Eleven additional deaths have also been recorded for a total of 453.

Eleven counties recorded elevated cases of the coronavirus with Sebastian and Pulaski leading the way in new cases. Benton, Washington, Independence, Crittenton, Union, Mississippi, Jefferson, Saline and Craighead counties also recorded elevated cases of the virus.

Testing numbers were significantly better on Friday, with 7,207 tests completed since Thursday. The Department of Health increased their testing output considerably since Thursday, delivering 1,885 tests. Commercial testing labs also contributed significantly higher returns with 5,025. The University of Arkansas for the Medical Sciences Lab delivered the rest of the tests. The state has now recorded 188,478 tests in July. With one day’s worth of tests left to count, Arkansas is unlikely to reach its July testing goal of 200,000 tests.

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