Coronavirus in Arkansas: 523 cases confirmed, 8 deaths; Hutchinson requests major disaster declaration

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday as of 1:30 p.m., there were 523 cases of the coronavirus in Arkansas, with one additional death.

That brings the state’s total number of deaths due to complications from the coronavirus to eight.

According to Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, the person who died was 65 years or older, broadly from Central Arkansas and died at the White River Medical Center.

Of the 523 cases in the state, Dr. Smith said 17 were children, 158 were adults 65 years and older and 348 were adults aged 18 to 64 years old.

Dr. Smith also said of the current cases, 44 are diabetic, 39 have heart disease, 23 have chronic lung diseases, 12 have chronic kidney disease and 16 have immuno-compromising diseases.

Dr. Smith also noted 79 healthcare workers also tested positive for the virus.

According to Dr. Smith, there are currently 64 people in the hospital with COVID-19, 23 on a ventilator and 47 in nursing homes.

New cases were also announced in Columbia, Newton and Perry counties.

Governor Hutchinson did note that the current cases were lower than what was projected. According to the governor, the state was projected to be at about 900 cases when we actually have 523 cases as of today. According to the projections, the state is projected to hit 3,500 cases toward mid-April. He says the trend line shows social distancing is working.

Dr. Smith also wanted to clear confusion on when employees who either had confirmed cases of COVID-19 or were quarantined. For people who did have the coronavirus and were not hospitalized, they should be out of work until its been seven days since the onset of symptoms and three days since they last had a fever. There may be some exceptions, like healthcare workers who work with high-risk patients. For those who were exposed to the virus, they must be out for 14 days, which is the incubation period. Smith said more information would be on the Department of Health’s website in the near future.

In the news conference, the governor expressed concern over the number of recreational out-of-state visitors, especially those who are coming from virus hot spots. He announced Tuesday that he has directed his administration to look at ways to curtail recreational travelers. Hutchinson said that could mean closing frequently-visited state parks. He also mentioned one area of concern is Buffalo National River, and that there are talks with the National Park Service about concerns. The governor said in order to reduce the number of out-of-state visitors, we would need to close some of the attractions. Hutchinson said Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism Stacy Hurst to recommend which state parks to close.

On Tuesday, the governor also announced he signed a letter requesting Arkansas be declared a major disaster area due to COVID-19. He explained the declaration was a process that has to be done to document losses measured by National Guard involvement, the extent of loss and the number of cases. The governor said the state is now at a point where that could be documented. Hutchinson said that would give the state access to federal funding and National Guard resources.

The governor also said Tuesday he authorized 40 additional National Guard air and army personnel. Dr. Smith said the National Guard is helping to create more hospital bed spaces. The governor said the National Guard is currently working on the state’s dime.

Keesa Smith, the Deputy Director for Children Youth & Families also announced a new venture by her department to help the 15,000 clients that have home health services. Smith says the divisions came together and found a way to check on the clients by creating a call center. The call center makes sure every person is called twice a week. Smith mentioned there was a case where a woman was contacted who was running low on food and her power was off. The call center worker made sure the power was restored that day and contacted the woman’s children, who said they’d help get her food.

The governor also announced he has directed his administration to look at ways to curtail recreational travelers from out-of-state, which he says may involve closing frequently-visited state parks.

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