Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Saturday (March 21) said peak COVID-19 infection in the state will hit in 6 to 8 weeks, with an estimated 1,000 patients hospitalized. The governor also said the state could take a significant financial hit to general revenue in April, May and June reports.
COVID-19 cases rose from 96 on Friday to 118 on Saturday, with 154 persons under investigation and 501 people being monitored because of a possible risk. As of Saturday afternoon, there were more than 22,000 U.S. cases and around 280 deaths. Globally, there were more than 297,000 cases and more than 13,000 deaths.
During a Saturday press conference, Gov. Hutchinson said now is the time for everyone to practice social distancing, avoid unnecessary travel and take other announced actions to avoid spreading COVID-19.
“Arkansas is likely to reach the peak of COVID-19 spread in 6 to 8 weeks. At the peak, we’re likely to see 1,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. This number strains our hospitals, our medical system, and our economy, and it endangers lives. Our goal, as you know, is to flatten the peak and reduce the spread of COVID-19. And this is where we need everyone’s help,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
The governor said the number of hospitalized patients is a “good measuring stick” as to how state and federal efforts, and efforts by the public, are working to minimize the spread. He also said the 1,000 number is a “peak of a constant state of hospitalization at 1,000” meaning patients will come and go but the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals will remain at around 1,000.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Chancellor Cam Patterson said medical facilities and resources in the state should be able to handle the peak estimate.
“Based on our best projections, I do think we will be able to manage that,” he said of the 1,000 hospitalizations, adding later than no hospital in the state has more than two COVID-19 patients.
Patterson also said UAMS will by next week be able to conduct around 800 tests for people around the state with a six- to eight-hour turnaround time. He said this will help state officials and medical personnel to make better and more timely decisions.
Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith noted that not all who are infected will need hospital care, with many reporting mild symptoms before they recover.
Of the 118 now infected, Smith said nine are under 18 years old, 32 are 65 years or older and 77 are in the 19-64 age range. He said 21% of the infected are African Americans and 68% are white. And of the 118, he said seven are in intensive care units and four have been on a ventilator.
Smith said they are also encouraging dentists to do only necessary work in order to avoid the spread, and are issuing guidance for hospitals to postpone elective surgical procedures in order to save equipment and beds.
In response to a media question, Gov. Hutchinson said state tax revenue in March is doing well, but the April, May and June reports could show a $100 million or more hit to general revenue because of the loss of economic activity.
Year-to-date gross general tax revenue (July-February) totaled $4.531 billion, up 4.3% from the same period in 2019, and 2% above the budget estimate, according to figures provided March 3 by the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. The surplus revenue (year-to-date net available revenue) was $185.3 million, and the revenue was $89.2 million above the budget estimate.