The number of COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas rose from three to five as of Saturday (March 28), with Gov. Asa Hutchinson expressing frustration about supply chain issues that are limiting and delaying testing for the pandemic that continues to spread globally.
Gov. Hutchinson also said the number of weekly jobless applications in the past week totaled more than 30,000, which followed around 9,400 applications in the prior week.
COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 404 as of early afternoon Saturday, up from 381 on Friday. The number of deaths rose from three to five. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 48, unchanged from Friday. As of Saturday at 1 p.m., there were 112,468 U.S. cases and 1,841 deaths. Globally, there were 640,589 cases and almost 30,000 deaths.
Of the positive Arkansas cases, 15 are age 18 and under, 130 are 65 and older and 259 are age 19-64. Also, 61% of those with COVID-19 in Arkansas are women, including five who are pregnant. Following are the five counties with the most COVID-19 cases as of 1 p.m., Saturday.
During Saturday’s press conference at the state capitol, Gov. Hutchinson said despite increases in testing capacity by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and private labs, the testing process is still slow. He said state officials “had done everything we should do” but the supply chain has backed up and key ingredients in the testing process aren’t readily available.
“It’s not the significant increase in testing that we had wished,” the governor noted.
In response to media questions, Gov. Hutchinson said he talked Friday with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield about the testing supply problem, and has also talked to private sector suppliers.
“They are backed up. They are doing the best they can. … I’m pushing. I’m pushing every envelope I can,” he said.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said Arkansas is not alone in the shortage, adding that Louisiana and other states with more COVID-19 cases also have significant testing supply issues. Smith said the supply issue means the priority for testing is with healthcare workers, nursing home patients and others in long-term care facilities, those 65 or older, and those with chronic underlying medical conditions.
Smith also urged those traveling from domestic and international “hotspots” back to Arkansas to self quarantine for 14 days.
Gov. Hutchinson said the medical crisis has also resulted in a financial crisis for many Arkansans and business owners. He said recent state and federal actions should help, citing extensions of the state and federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, extended time for jobless benefits, expansion of eligibility for jobless benefits, cash payments from the federal government, and numerous state and federal loan programs.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said he realizes the system to file jobless claims is cumbersome, but asked for patience. He said the state website has been improved to handle the increased load, and new phone lines and more phone operators should come online on Monday. He also said the jobless claims will be backdated to when the job was lost, not when the claimant notifies the state.