ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Governor Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., has provided COVID-19 briefings for 101 days as of July 10. Reporting the first case, first death, first school or business closure has all been a learning curve during the pandemic.
What is consistent about the novel coronavirus is that “it’s an equal opportunity virus,” said Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith in late May.
COVID-19 TIMELINE (information from the governor’s website, cities, KNWA/FOX24 news)
MARCH 11, 2020: The first presumptive positive COVID-19 case reported in Arkansas. The case was tested by the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and sent to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for confirmation. The case was from an out-of-state traveler. “There is no indication that COVID-19 is spreading in Arkansas communities at this time,” according to the governor’s office.
MARCH 11, 2020: Executive Order 20-03 is signed to declare a public health emergency — to help state agencies coordinate response to the virus. Agencies included are education and transportation.
MARCH 12, 2020: University of Arkansas (UARK) in Fayetteville and Little Rock suspended in-person classes. Online courses kick-in March 16 through the end of the semester.
MARCH 15/16, 2020: Public schools closed beginning Tuesday, March 17 (through April). Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and University of Arkansas at Monticello switched to all-online instruction through the end of the semester. Public events are limited to 50 people per CDC guidelines.
MARCH 16, 2020: Little Rock’s mayor announced a citywide curfew — no residents are allowed outside from 12 a.m. to 5 a.m.
MARCH 17, 2020: The governor directed 1) The Arkansas Department of Commerce to hasten unemployment benefits to Arkansans whose jobs may be impacted by COVID-19. 2) The Department of Commerce was directed to waive work-search requirements for the unemployed. 3) Unemployed Arkansans are allowed to apply online or telephone for benefits. Three casinos closed for two weeks.
MARCH 18, 2020: 1) $12 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds were tapped to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits due to COVID-19. Up to $4 million came the quick-action fund for bridge loans to help midsize companies and nonprofits stay open. 2) Child-care voucher providers got a reimbursement increase. These are providers, who care for children, who get federal child-care assistance and stay open through March 27. 3) Department of Human Services (DHS) suspended the child-care renewal process for 30 days. More than 800 child-care providers have closed. 4) The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) suspended the work requirement through the end of April.
MARCH 20, 2020: The governor released $30 million to the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to buy personal protective equipment (PPE). The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will distribute based upon priorities set by the ADH. Hospitals were included in the purchase and paid for its portion.
MARCH 23, 2020: Tax filing deadline extended to July 15. This is Executive Order 20-09.
MARCH 23, 2020: The governor declared Executive Order 20-14 that suspended in-person witnessing and notarization of legal documents. These documents may be completed electronically. This EO replaces 20-03.
MARCH 24, 2020: The first two COVID-19 related deaths happened on the same day. Brian Dill, 59, of Pulaski County and Bill Barton, 90, of Cleburne County.
MARCH 24, 2020: Barber shops, beauty and nail salons, massage parlors and tattoo parlors were ordered to close.
MARCH 25, 2020: The 92 General Assembly convened so legislators could discuss the projected loss in state revenue. The governor said the decision to meet was based on having talked with legislators and the DFA.
MARCH 26, 2020: The DHS submitted a federal waiver Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The $116 million waiver was to fund initiatives to protect Arkansas health care workers and their patients, and support health care providers. Additional pay was to be provided for certain health care workers, nursing facilities, all foster families.
MARCH 30, 2020: 1) An extra $45 million is added to the $30 million (March 20) to buy PPE and ventilators. The money is from the new COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund, which the 92 General Assembly established (March 25). 2) Executive Order 20-11 created a 15-member steering committee called the Arkansas Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Steering Committee (Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee). Six are members of the General Assembly.
MARCH 30, 2020: Alice Jett, 83, from Pulaski County was the first nursing home death. She lived at Briarwood Nursing & Rehabilitation Center.
APRIL 1, 2020: Temporary changes are implemented for Arkansas’ state parks. “Day use only” is created and overnight stays at cabins/campgrounds are nixed. The goal is to “reduce the risk of overcrowding … discourage out-of-state visitors,” the governor said.
APRIL 4, 2020: The governor signed Executive Order 20-13 that only allows authorized people to use commercial lodging, such as health care workers, first responders, active National Guard, to name a few.
APRIL 5, 2020: Mary Blount is the oldest Arkansan to die from COVID-19. 107. She lived at Briarwood Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Pulaski County.
APRIL 15, 2020: Three Executive Orders were created by the governor. EO 20-17 creates the Governor’s Medical Advisory Committee for Post-Peak COVID-19 responses. EO 20-18 removes limits on work hours for healthcare providers and other measures for those who work in the medical field, and expands the definition of “emergency responders.” This title will now include physicians, physician assistants, specialist assistants, nurse practitioners, etc. EO 20-19 expands first responders and healthcare workers to file worker’s compensation claims if they are infected on the job.
MAY 1, 2020: Back in business. Phase 1 guidelines allowed for the re-opening of barber shops, tattoo shops, cosmetology establishments, massage clinics and spas. Rules are in place such as the use of face masks, gloves and social distancing. The ADH released the directive.
MAY 1-3, 2020: Five Cummins Unit prison inmates died. Daniel Wood, 61, (5/1), Ronnie West, 65, (5/2), Kenneth Olden, 49, (5/3), John Young, 71, (5/3), and Derick Coley 29, (5/2). The Arkansas Department of Corrections requested an autopsy for Coley, no reason was given. The Lincoln County coroner’s report does not list a cause of death, however it states he was positive for the virus. ADC said he died of natural causes.
MAY 5, 2020: The governor extended the state’s public health emergency. Executive Order 20-25 renews the previous two orders, March 11 and March 26. This EO also included restrictions for out-of-state travelers who must follow the state’s quarantine guidelines.
MAY 19, 2020: Bars associated with restaurants may open, but freestanding bars (not associated with restaurants) will be dormant until re-opening with restrictions on May 26.
MAY 26, 2020: The governor announced that Dr. Nate Smith will head to Atlanta and take a top position with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Dr. Jose Romero will serve as Interim Health Secretary. The governor said about Dr. Smith: “He educated me, counseled me, challenged me, and supported me.” Smith’s CDC title will be Deputy Director for Public Health Service and Implementation Science. His last day with the state will be August 28, 2020.
MAY 29, 2020: Executive Order 20-28 created the COVID-19 Technical Advisory Board. It will review and evaluate new technologies; the state’s public health agencies will develop strategies for testing/contact tracing. “This advisory board will review options to ensure that we are employing the best tools that will allow us to quickly mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” the governor said. Dr. Austin Porter III will serve as chair, 11 are on the board.
JUNE 15, 2020: The state began Phase 2 of its re-opening. The ADH provided guidelines for gyms, fitness center, manufacturers, construction companies, restaurants (66% capacity), bars and clubs (seating is increased to 66% capacity), dental procedures and casinos (increase to 66% capacity).
JUNE 15, 2020: The governor issued three Executive Orders, 20-33, 20-34, 20-35, that pertain to employers/businesses, health care provider immunity, and workers compensation coverage, respectively. The three EOs will stay in place until the pandemic is over.
JUNE 16, 2020: Fayetteville passed an ordinance for masks “to be worn inside public locations. Other cities followed suit (Little Rock 6/25, Conway 7/6, Rogers 7/6, Hot Springs 7/7).
JUNE 24, 2020: The Arkansas Department of Education outlined requirements for face coverings by employees, applications for CARES Act funds and what is meant to be “absent” during remote/virtual learning.
JUNE 29, 2020: The governor announced re-opening plans for the Natural State are on hold due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
JUNE 30, 2020: The governor of New York added Arkansas to New York’s travel advisory list. This means anyone from Arkansas who goes to New York must quarantine for two weeks.
JULY 3, 2020: The governor signed Executive Order 20-41 allowing cities to write an ordinance requiring mandatory face coverings to help curb the COVID-19 spread.
JULY 7, 2020: The state agrees to a $20 million contract with General Dynamics for contact tracing.
This timeline is from pandemic inception through Friday, July 10, 2020. The report will continue to be updated.