Arkansas officials work to limit out-of-state visitors; ‘success’ cited in social distancing

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 5,523 views 

A state that has spent millions of dollars in past decades to encourage people from out of state to visit Arkansas’ parks, rivers and other ecotourism resources is now working to limit the number of out-of-state visitors from COVID-19 “hot spots.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson also said during Tuesday’s (March 31) press conference that modeling shows the number of positive COVID-19 cases is below the trend line. For example, the modeling indicated there would be 900 cases on March 31, far more than the 523 actual cases. The modeling, when first developed, estimated the state would have 3,500 cases by April 10.

“The red line [below the blue trend line] means we are having success in our social distancing,” Gov. Hutchinson said, adding that if Arkansans will continue to follow guidelines the state will return “to normality in a quicker fashion.”

COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 523 as of Tuesday afternoon, up from 473 on Monday. The number of deaths rose from seven to eight. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 64 on Tuesday, up from the 62 on Monday. As of Tuesday at 1 p.m., there were 174,467 U.S. cases and 3,416 deaths. Globally, there were 826,272 cases and 40,708 deaths.

The governor and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith were asked if the state is trending below expectations because the state is behind with testing capabilities. Smith said testing is “a problem across the country,” and noted that testing was even more restricted when the model was created and more testing is now happening.

Earlier in the press conference, Smith said lab testing capability remains “very challenging” but the Arkansas Department of Health lab conducted 94 tests on Monday and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) conducted 83. Smith said the state lab has hired and trained enough personnel to begin operating the lab 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As to out-of-state visitors, Gov. Hutchinson said the number of visitors is a problem, citing “large groups” along the Buffalo River that are not following social distancing and other guidelines. He said he has directed state officials to reduce the number of visitors. That includes seeking a recommendation from Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism, on which state facilities to close. The state has already closed lodges at DeGray Lake Resort State Park, Mount Magazine State Park, Petit Jean State Park, and Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Following are other items discussed during Tuesday’s press conference.
• Gov. Hutchinson has signed and sent to the federal government a proclamation declaring the state a major disaster area, and he has called an additional 40 Arkansas National Guard members to help in the COVID-19 response.

• There have been 275 applications for bridge loans through the Quick Action Loan Guaranty Program, with most in the small loan category. Gov. Hutchinson said the state expects to send out about $3 million in loan funds next week for qualifying requests.

• More than 30,000 Arkansans have filed for jobless claims since the COVID-19 outbreak essentially shut down much of the state and national economy. The governor said the state is still working to address lengthy delays in the filing process.

• Gov. Hutchinson signed an executive order that that allows notary signature through audio or visual means instead of in-person signing.

• 51 of Arkansas’ 75 counties have at least one positive COVID-19 case.

• Of the 523 cases on Tuesday afternoon, 79 are among healthcare workers, 17 are age 18 or younger, 158 are age 65 or older and 348 are age 19 to 64.

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