Crittenden County records most COVID-19 cases in NEA; planting season set to begin

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,596 views 

Crittenden County now has six confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to figures released Wednesday (March 25) by the Arkansas Department of Health.

The county has more cases than any other in Northeast Arkansas. There are confirmed cases in Craighead, Greene, Poinsett, Lawrence, and Cross counties. Statewide the number of confirmed cases is approaching 300 with two confirmed deaths.

Even as the pandemic spreads across NEA the region’s top industry, agriculture is about to begin planting season. Wet weather has plagued early season planting efforts, as fields have remained inundated with water. The National Weather Service is reporting warmer and dryer weather for the next few days, but as the weekend looms, more showers are predicted and could hurt planting efforts.

The Arkansas Department of Agriculture has received many inquiries regarding COVID-19 response efforts, as well as many requests for food and agriculture to be considered as essential critical infrastructure, Arkansas Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward said.

“We are encouraged by the efforts of the president and the federal government in their response to COVID-19 and we appreciate the U.S. Department of Homeland Security including food and agriculture in their guidance on the essential critical infrastructure workforce,” he said. “Please know that Gov. Hutchinson is in frequent communication with the president and vice president regarding COVID-19 response efforts.”

Arkansas Rice leaders have been in constant contact with state and federal officials to ensure that those who work in the agriculture industry will be designated as essential, Executive Director Lauren Waldrip said. Letters have been sent to the state asking for this designation to apply not only to the farmers and workers, but a number of industries that support agriculture.

Agriculture is a more than $21 billion industry in the state, the letter noted. Companies that provide inputs such as seed and fertilizer should be considered essential along with businesses that provide logistics and equipment, the letters state.

“We have been in contact with the Department of Health’s section chief for Food Emergency Response and Food Processors, Phillip Fruechting, who understands our concerns regarding not only the designation, but also any potential requirements for employees to show documentation and avoid apprehension in the event of a state lock down,” Waldrip said.

The upheaval caused by the coronavirus disease has impacted the industry in many unexpected ways. For example, the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Plant Health Clinic will accept only digital samples while the division observes social distancing precautions to avoid COVID-19 exposure.

The clinic will continue to return phone calls and emails, and will diagnose plant health problems from digital images, said Sherrie Smith, plant diagnostician.

Accurate diagnosis requires high-quality, full-resolution photos. Smith said take photos from as close as possible and in sharp focus. The images can be submitted through the clinic’s online submission form.

Those who don’t have an account can go to that link and request an account via a link under the login fields, Smith said.

Once social distancing precautions are lifted, the clinic will return to accepting samples through county extension offices or from walk-ins to the clinic on the Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville.

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