The first confirmed COVID-19 fatality was announced Monday (March 30) in Northeast Arkansas. A Paragould resident succumbed to the disease, Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said during an afternoon news conference. The person’s identity and identifying characteristics have not been released.
The person is the seventh person to die in Arkansas from the disease, and there are now 473 confirmed cases statewide. There were no more NEA counties to report a first case, but the numbers in Crittenden County jumped to 17 cases. Clay, Mississippi, Jackson, and Sharp counties are the only NEA counties to still have not reported a confirmed case.
Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin expressed last week concerns about the lack of new cases being reported in Craighead County. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there are only six cases in the county and Perrin believes that number is inaccurate. St. Bernards Hospital, the largest in the region, clarified on Monday why the county might be off. It released the following statement:
“We started screening patients and administering COVID-19 tests as soon as the virus entered Arkansas and our bordering states. We even dedicated one of our Urgent Care clinics completely to COVID-19 testing. Unfortunately, our laboratory options to complete the process were limited at the time, especially with the Arkansas Department of Health’s lab inundated with statewide samples. Per the Department’s urging, we began using commercial labs, engaging with a national lab, Quest Diagnostics, based in Secaucus, N.J. Because of Quest’s backlog of COVID-19 samples, the lab failed to provide timely results on nearly all the samples we sent. Consequently, our patients, their families and our team members did not receive results in the time frame we expect, and we ceased sending samples to Quest.”
St. Bernards has coordinated with three additional commercial labs for testing. Some results have come back in as few as 24 hours. In addition, it has coordinated with patients tested through Quest for further information.
In addition to COVID-19, Jonesboro residents and officials continue to deal with the aftermath of an EF-3 tornado that destroyed parts of the city’s commercial district Saturday afternoon. Crews and volunteers worked late Monday to clear ditches in the impacted area, as a monster rain storm looms on Tuesday.
The National Weather Service predicts two to three inches of rain could envelope the region and with the amount of refuse in the drainage system from the twister, flooding is a real possibility, city officials said.
The number of homes seriously damaged or completely lost due to the tornado jumped to 149 Monday afternoon, and another 309 homes had moderate to minor damage. At least 200 buildings were damaged in the storm, and The Mall at Turtle Creek could be a complete loss.
The Jonesboro Airport is closed after receiving heavy damage, and Perrin said flights should be redirected to the Walnut Ridge Airport or to the Paragould Airport. Perrin also said one of the main post offices in the city, located on Race Street, remains closed.