The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas rose from six to nine between Thursday and Friday, with one patient not having a link to possible exposure while outside the state, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday (March 13).
As of early Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 41 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 (coronavirus), with 1,629 confirmed cases. The ongoing pandemic outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus was first detected in China and has now been detected in more than 100 locations internationally, including in the United States.
During a Friday afternoon press conference, the governor said the state will hire 10 more lab techs for the state’s testing lab and will add 20 people to work the Arkansas Department of Health call center. Gov. Hutchinson said it is “unacceptable” that up to 800 calls have been backed up at the call center.
The governor, who was joined at the conference by Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe, Johnny Key, director of the State Department of Education, and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith, also encouraged school officials to read new guidance from the CDC. He noted there is “a great deal of conversation going on around the state” about whether schools should close, but said the CDC is not recommending school closures, unless a short term closure is needed for cleaning if a case is discovered.
“Closing schools early in the spread of disease for a short time [e.g., 2 weeks] will be unlikely to stem the spread of disease or prevent impact on the healthcare system, while causing significant disruption for families, schools and those who may be responding to COVID-19 outbreaks in healthcare settings,” notes part of the CDC guidance on school closures. “It may also increase impact on older adults who care for grandchildren. Waiting to enact school closures until at the correct time in the epidemic (e.g., later in the spread of disease) combined with other social distancing interventions allows for optimal impact despite disruption.”
Key added to that by saying, “What we know is, schools are the safest place.”
Gov. Hutchinson said he plans to amend his emergency order to expand the ability of doctors in Arkansas to “carry out telehealth.” He said it is important for doctors to be able to work with patients over the phone. To that point, the governor stressed later in the press conference that those who think they may be symptomatic for COVID-19 should call their physician or a hospital to get information on where and when to be tested. He said they do not need to go to an emergency room or other healthcare facility and run the risk of infecting others.
Bledsoe said testing resources are still a problem with the state lab only able to handle about 20 a day. However, he said doctors can order a test by taking a swab and sending it to a private lab.