The number of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas rose from 33 on Wednesday to 62 on Thursday (March 19), with Gov. Asa Hutchinson issuing five new directives – including extending the length of school closures – designed to slow the spread of the virus in Arkansas.
COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were more than 11,000 as of Thursday morning, with at least 167 deaths confirmed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the ongoing pandemic outbreak of respiratory disease is caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and which has now been detected in more than 150 locations internationally, including in the United States.
Gov. Hutchinson said a partial reason for the rise is an increase in testing, but said the new cases reflect a change in how the disease is being spread.
“Let me say again, this is not a surprise. It is merely a reflection of the increase in testing,” the governor said during a Thursday afternoon press conference. He added that the state is seeing “increasing community spread” rather than the cases being a result of those who had traveled outside the state.
Following are the five new directives Gov. Hutchinson issued based on guidance from healthcare officials.
• All Arkansas schools will remain closed until April 17. At that time, the issue will be re-evaluated, but online work will continue.
• State government employees who can will work remotely.
• Hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities are now mandated to screen staff and visitors.
• Bars and restaurants must now close for dine-in service, but can be open for takeout and delivery.
• Indoor venues such as gyms are closed for “non-essential functions.”
Gov. Hutchinson also encouraged all businesses to have employees work remotely when possible, to screen the staff, and enforce social distancing. He also said people should avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and avoid unnecessary trips where exposure to large groups could happen.
He also advised that people not visit nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and also encouraged all places of religious services to cancel services.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Chancellor Cam Patterson said they have acquired three new machines that will allow them to increase the number of COVID-19 tests and reduce the turnaround time.