Coronavirus in Arkansas: Governor Hutchinson, state officials give update on cases and response

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson, Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, and other state officials gave an update Friday on cases and their response to the coronavirus.

As of Friday afternoon, there are 5,612 total cases and 113 deaths in the state, according to Governor Asa Hutchinson.

That is an increase of 154 cases and three deaths.

Out of the 154 new cases, 135 were in the community and 19 were in correctional facilities, according to state officials.

The number of Arkansans hospitalized due to the coronavirus decreased by five on Friday to 81.

Fourteen people are on ventilators due to the virus, according to Dr. Smith.

According to Dr. Smith, 1,407 of the total cases are considered active. Of the active cases, Dr. Smith said 86 are in nursing homes, 510 are in correctional facilities and 874 are in communities.

The governor said there is now a new peak in active cases.

Dr. Smith said there are 20 new cases in nursing homes, those are from Union County.

Dr. Smith also said four additional nursing home staff in the state tested positive for the virus.

According to Dr. Smith, there are 13 additional cases at the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, bringing the total number of cases there to 622.

Dr. Smith said as of Friday, 4,029 people have recovered from the virus in the state, which was an increase of 114 from the day before.

Dr. Smith said 2,909 tests were done Thursday with a positivity rate of 4.4 percent.

Gov. Hutchinson said testing is going very well. According to state officials, 51,275 people have been tested in May. The goal is to test 60,000 people in May.

Dr. Smith said in total, 102,041 people have been tested for the virus in Arkansas.

The governor said the positivity rate is below five percent and well below the national standard of 10 percent.

Governor Hutchinson also bragged on Dr. Smith’s contact tracing team because Smith had told the governor that they have already traced 61 percent of the cases announced Thursday.

Dr. Smith said there was a reduction from the number of community cases announced Thursday to 224. According to Smith, one was out of state and another was a false positive.

Smith said 137 people have been successfully contacted, and 24 percent were known to be a contact of a previous case.

According to Smith, 37 of the 137 contacted are connected with clusters at sites of employment.

Smith said only two have reported having gone to a restaurant and two reported having gone to a gym or fitness center.

The governor said Washington County had the highest number of new cases with 32. According to Gov. Hutchinson, most of those came from three households. Hutchinson said that it shows the quickness of spreading in a community or household.

According to state officials, Benton County had 22 new cases reported.

Dr. Smith said Pulaski County had 19 new cases reported, Sevier County had 11 and Crittenden County had 10.

Greene County had eight new cases, which were from the same street in Paragould, according to the governor.

All other counties had five or fewer new cases, Dr. Smith said.

Dr. Smith said Friday’s numbers are less dramatic than the day prior.

Governor Hutchinson said 898 Ready for Business grants have been approved and the grant money will be sent out Friday and over the weekend.

Governor Hutchinson also said Friday that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance system is secure and is processing claims. According to the governor, 7,105 claims have been paid and an additional 3,000 will have funds sent out. The governor said self-employed and gig economy workers who have a claim pending will receive an email, and advised them to do their weekly report on pua.arkansas.gov. Governor Hutchinson said 60-70 people will be working over the weekend to handle calls and process claims.

Dr. Smith also announced Friday that his department is updating the directive of elective surgeries. Effective Monday, the restrictions from the ASA rating will be removed, meaning even sicker patients can have surgery. Restrictions will also be lifted on the length of the hospital stay. Dr. Smith said patients will still have to be tested within 72 hours of the surgery, but suggested the testing be done within 48 hours if they are able to. According to Dr. Smith, antigen testing can be done, but not antibody testing.

Dr. Smith also said surgeries performed outside hospital settings where there is no co-mingling of patients and does not involve penetration of the body cavity or joints. An example he gave was outpatient cataract surgery were exempt.

Stacy Hurst, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said with the Memorial Day weekend upon us, there is an abundance off access to the outdoors. Cedar Falls at Petit Jean is reopening. Delta Heritage and Cane Creek trails are also cleared and open.

Hurst said uniformed staff will be monitoring and enforcing social distancing that is required.

Hurst encouraged Arkansans to use their state parks, but do so responsibly.

Hurst also said the Buffalo National River opened the Lost Valley Tail.

Wolf Pen Gap is also open, according to Hurst.

Hurst also warned Arkansans with the threat of rain, please be mindful of water levels and potential of flooding.

Col. Nate Todd, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs said his department tested 90 residents in the North Little Rock Veterans Home and all came back negative.

Col. Todd said tests will soon be done at the Fayetteville Veterans Home.

Col. Todd said memorials will be on Facebook live.

Col. Todd thanked those who served our nation and said he’ll never forget their service.

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