Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Arkansas has identified its first “presumptive” COVID-19 case. The patient, a resident of Pine Bluff, is in isolation and preliminary testing has been forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where a second test will be conducted to confirm or reject the first results.
Hutchinson said the potential coronavirus patient had traveled to another state in the U.S. and was not an international traveler. The governor made the disclosure at a cabinet meeting in Little Rock on Wednesday (March 11).
Nate Smith, Secretary of the Health Department, said it was “not unexpected” with surrounding states seeing patients with the virus.
“Although this is a presumptive result… we’re moving ahead to gather more information,” Smith told reporters. He said there is no evidence the coronavirus had spread elsewhere in the Pine Bluff community or other parts of the state.
Hutchinson said he did not believe the one person identified as “presumptive” should lead to any major changes in personal behavior. He did offer some recommendations and said he planned to sign a declaration of emergency later today with more guidance.
The state Department of Health and Department of Human Services issued a directive earlier this week outlining procedures for health care officials to take extraordinary precautions to protect elderly residents in nursing homes and those with compromised immune systems in hospitals and other facilities.
Hutchinson also revealed that he is restricting out of state travel for state employees. He said during the cabinet meeting that he asked his secretaries to sign off on any out of state travel.
“It’s not a complete travel ban,” he said, “Just a precaution.”
Hutchinson also warned Arkansans who may be traveling with the upcoming Spring Break to “reconsider” their plans and to be careful with where they are headed.
“We hope to mitigate the risks caused by coronavirus,” he said. “We are as prepared as we can be for any upturn in an outbreak.”
UPDATE: Hutchinson signed the emergency order proclamation on Wednesday afternoon. The proclamation provides that the Secretary of Health may issue orders of isolation or quarantine “as necessary and appropriate” to control the spread of the coronavirus. In consultation with the governor, the secretary “shall have sole authority over all instances of quarantine, isolation, and restrictions on commerce and travel throughout the state.”
It also outlines broad latitude for the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the governor, to deal with matters of commerce, transportation, education and emergency management.