Arkansas governor, health officials point to Sevier Co. as success story in slowing spread of COVID-19

Coronavirus

DE QUEEN, Ark. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state health officials conducted their daily COVID-19 briefing from De Queen Friday, holding the city and the hard-hit Southwest Arkansas county up as an example Friday of what can be done to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“This has been a success story,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith. “What you have been doing has made a difference.”

“There’s probably not been any county that’s been hit as hard by the COVID-19 outbreak as this county,” said Smith. “And so I want to express my appreciation for you all for the way that you’ve addressed that challenge.”

Still, he warned locals not to let up the effort as COVID-19 “is notorious at coming back.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Sevier had the highest cumulative case count in Southwest Arkansas, with 781. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, 88 of those cases are currently active, 684 have recovered, and nine people have died.

While Friday’s new cases and data have not yet been updated on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, Smith said Sevier had seven new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 788. He also said there are now 83 active cases.

Sevier’s overall positivity rate has been high at 17.9 percent, compared to the state’s overall positivity rate of 7.2 percent. And Smith said that although Latinos account for a little over one-third of Sevier’s population, nearly two-thirds of the cases have been among Latinos.

Still, De Queen has managed to slow the growth in new cases. Using graphs to compare case trends in De Queen and Little Rock, Secretary of Smith described “a tale of two cities,” noting an overall downward trend in cases in seat of the county and a marked rise in cases in the state’s capital city.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in Little Rock to match what you’ve done in De Queen, but this is to say to all of our cities in the state, if we do the right things, if we take a concentrated effort if we work together, then we can make a difference. We can overcome this COVID-19 outbreak. But we have to do those things, otherwise, we’ll see those go up and up. So, to Little Rock and to all the other communities, take a look at what they’ve done in De Queen. Take heart, because it can be done.”

Sevier County is home to two poultry processing plants, providing congregant settings with large numbers of workers among whom the virus can spread.

Hutchinson said they met the manager of Pilgrim’s Pride before Friday’s briefing and said, “they should be applauded and they’ve been a key part of the success here.”

“I was very impressed at the safety precautions that they’ve put in place. They actually have a full-time superintendent that is responsible for COVID education within the facility, teaching everyone there not just how to be safe in the work environment but also how to take that into the community and the rest of the time in which they live. And so I was very pleased, and they’ve been part of the success story here in Sevier County as to the reduction of the cases and how you’ve got the handle on the spread of COVID-19.”

Because of the city’s overall downward trend in new cases, De Queen authorities are encouraging people to wear masks, but not requiring them.

The governor is allowing cities to decide locally on whether to mandate masks. Hutchinson says he doesn’t plan on any statewide orders at this time.

Statewide, Arkansas now has 26,803 cases and 313 deaths after adding 751 new cases and four more deaths since Thursday. Dr. Smith said there are now 5,847 active cases.

149 of the new cases are in correctional facilities and 602 are community-spread.

Smith said hospitalizations rose by eight on Friday, for a total of 402 patients currently in the hospital for treatment of the coronavirus, with 84 on ventilators. That is up by two from Thursday.

Smith also noted an additional 650 recoveries, bringing the total to 20,642.

Hot Spring County had the highest number of new cases reported Friday, with 145. Smith said most of them were in the Ouachita Correctional Facility. Pulaski was second-highest, with 100 new cases.

Smith said the state is cranking up testing again since the Fourth of July holiday. There were 5,212 tests reported Friday, 1,203 from the state public health lab and another 516 done by UAMS.

“In virtually every southern and southwestern state, we have cases that are going up fairly dramatically,” said Hutchinson, “and so we’re fighting that trend that we see across the South and the Southwest and we see our cases elevated in Arkansas. And the simple lesson is, as Dr. Smith said, this virus does not give up. We have to continue to be very diligent, we have to be disciplined in this, we have to continue our strategy. If we let up for one second, it will come back and it will accelerate once again. So we have to work very hard here in the state, continuously.”

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