Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said 14,803 businesses in the state were approved for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) established by Congress to help keep businesses open during the COVID-19 pandemic. The businesses were approved for more than $2.1 billion in loans.
COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 1,620 as of Thursday afternoon (April 16), up from 1,569 on Wednesday. Of the total cases, 1,035 are active cases, with the remainder accounting for deaths and recoveries. The number of deaths rose from 33 to 37 on Thursday. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 85 on Thursday, up from 83 on Wednesday. As of Thursday at 1 p.m., there were 641,166 U.S. cases and 31,590 deaths, with 10,899 of those in New York City. Globally, there were 2,101,164 cases and 140,773 deaths.
Of the COVID-19 patients in Arkansas, 21 were on ventilators, down from 25 on Wednesday. The number of healthcare workers with COVID-19 was 223, up from 215 on Wednesday. Of those, 81 have recovered.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said the state is seeing “good trends” with total cases and hospitalizations but with the numbers not yet showing a clear plateau, now is not the time to relax.
“It’s way too early to do a victory lap, but it looks like we should start planning ahead for when we are after the peak,” Smith said during Thursday’s daily COVID-19 press conference. “I wanted to let Arkansans know that we are looking at these things very carefully. … We are looking at how quickly and how safely we can start to peel back some of these directives and revise some of these guidance documents.”
Modeling on April 2 from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington showed Arkansas reaching “peak resource use” on April 26, with 619 deaths by Aug. 4. The model now shows the peak date at May 2, with estimated deaths by Aug. 4 falling dramatically to 195.
In a response to media questions, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said one of the first reopening actions would be to consider allowing hospitals and clinics to do non-elective surgeries and procedures to help their financial positions. But the absence of large group gatherings, according to Smith, may be in place until there is better control of the virus through a vaccine and new treatments.
Preston said Thursday the more than $2.1 billion in PPP loans to Arkansas businesses is good news for the state economy. The $349 billion program was created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic.
However, the U.S. Small Business Administration, which manages PPP loans, said Thursday the $349 billion has been tapped out, and the agency is no longer accepting loans. There is uncertainty whether all applications submitted will be approved, but SBA officials said loan applications with an SBA authorization number will receive the loan.
Preston also said the state has created a new website, ARunemployment.com, to better facilitate the rise in jobless claims in Arkansas during the past four weeks. The surge in Arkansas jobless claims receded last week by 44%, according to Thursday’s (April 16) U.S. Department of Labor report. Arkansas’ total for the week ending April 11 was 34,635, down from a spike of 62,086 the week prior.
Preston said the decline in the rate of jobless claim filings could reflect the PPP money received by Arkansas businesses.
“I think that’s probably why you’re seeing a leveling off in some of those numbers on unemployment. Some of those businesses were waiting to see if they could get that Payroll Protection Program approved that is going to allow them to keep those employees on and keep them employed for the next several weeks,” he said.
The new website also lets independent contractors, self-employed, freelancers and others in the so-called “gig” economy know when claims will be able to be processed. The CARES Act expanded unemployment benefit eligibility to this group, but federal guidelines were issued late and state officials scrambling to create a system to meet the guidelines. Those in this category are encouraged to submit an email and they will be contacted when the benefits are available. Preston said more than 7,000 emails were submitted as of Thursday morning.
As part of the upgrade, Preston said, the claims hotline is now operating six days a week beginning at 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., more hours from the previous from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. window. Calls will still be handled between 4 and 6 p.m., but no new calls will be accepted after 4 p.m., he said.