Arkansas sees largest one day spike in new COVID-19 cases at 455; still, youth sports and camps can reopen

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 3,269 views 

On a day Arkansas reported its largest daily increase in COVID-19 cases – 455 statewide – Gov. Asa Hutchinson outlined guidelines for restarting youth sports and reopening summer camps for kids.

According to Gov. Hutchinson, the number of active cases hit a high of 1,433 as testing continues to expose wider spread of the coronavirus across the state. Of active cases, 543 are in prisons, 94 in nursing homes, and 796 in the general population.

“Yes, this is a concern to us. We know it is reflective of the increased testing we’re doing,” Hutchinson said.

Of the 455 new cases reported Thursday (May 21), 229 came from a federal correctional facility in Forrest City (St. Francis County). Another 226 cases were from “community spread” meaning they are in the general population and ranged from Northwest Arkansas to the Louisiana border. Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith, the state’s Health Secretary, said they don’t indicate a major wave statewide, but do represent spikes in isolated communities.

For instance, there were 46 new cases in adjacent Pope and Yell counties; 53 new cases in Benton and Washington counties in Northwest Arkansas; 19 new cases in Union County; and 34 new cases extending from Craighead to Crittenden counties in Northeast Arkansas.

The state has been processing results from more than 2,000 tests per day since May 12 and just this week had a day of analyzing more than 3,000 tests and another day of 4,000.

Smith has discussed the need for contact tracing to help isolate cases and small outbreaks to prevent further spread. He has asked for more funding to hire as many as 200 contact tracers. Initially, the state had about a 35% rate of unknown origin of COVID-19 cases. Today, Smith said it is closer to 20%, meaning that 80% have been traced.

“80% is not enough. We need to get that over 90%,” he said. “We can interrupt chains of transmission” now that we know where they are, he added.

Arkansas has had a cumulative total of 5,458 COVID-19 cases with 3,019 recovering. Eighty-six (86) patients are hospitalized, up by seven from yesterday, and 110 people have died from the disease, an increase of three from Wednesday.

In the U.S., there have been a reported 1,562,714 cases with 294,312 recoveries and 93,863 deaths. Globally, there have been 5,047,377 cases with 1,924,231 recoveries and 329,816 deaths.

Hutchinson said that youth sports can restart on June 1. He outlined parameters for community and school teams sports that included:

  • Ticket sales online, if possible.
  • Team practice and competition prohibited for close contact sports such as basketball, wrestling, football, volleyball, soccer and martial arts.
  • Practices would be allowed using individual equipment and physical distancing.
  • Temperature checks for coaches and staff.
  • Face coverings for those 10 years old and older, with athletes removing them during activity.
  • Showers prohibited, locker rooms for storage only.
  • Frequent sanitizations of facilities and equipment.
  • Avoid huddles, high-fives, and other non-sport related contact.
  • Practice and competitions would be allowed for limited contact team sports like baseball, softball, track, gymnastics and swimming.

“When it comes to baseball, let’s play ball this summer,” Hutchinson said. “I’m delighted that we can play some ball under some restrictions… I know how important this is for our families and our communities.”

Hutchinson said that he and Dr. Smith would revisit guidelines on sports, which can be read here, on June 30.

As for camps, Hutchinson said day camps and overnight camps can open on May 31 with counselors set to arrive a week earlier. The complete Health Department guidelines can be accessed here. If families don’t feel comfortable sending their children to camps, they should not do it, he advised.

“We’re giving a big freedom of choice here. Some parents may say the time is not right,” Hutchinson said. “Those are individual decisions that those people must make.”

Dr. Jose Romero, a specialist in infectious diseases at Arkansas Children’s, shared information in the governor’s press conference on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). It has been found in some children following COVID-19. It includes fever for more than a day, inflammation in the body, and can affect multiple organs, including gastrointestinal tracts, liver, kidneys, the heart, and brain. Romero said it can be treated and is similar to symptoms found in Kawasaki disease.

Hutchinson was asked if opening up more activities that involve children is a good idea considering the big spike in cases revealed today.

“You have to balance that with my belief as I’ve expressed that we’re not going to shelter-in-place, we’re not going to go back to it, we’re not going to further shut down our economy,” Hutchinson said. “We’re going to have to learn to manage this economy and we’re going to have to stop the spread of the virus. You’ve got to do those two things simultaneously. Life goes on. We have to educate. We have to make a living. We have to make sure people have access to providing for their families…That’s what the people of Arkansas expect.”

Other notes from the Governor’s daily press conference include:

  • Dr. Smith called for more blood donations due to dwindling supply.
  • The Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro will reopen May 22.
  • The state’s beleaguered unemployment assistance portal is processing claims. 5,854 have entered information and 3,975 have had payments issued.
  • Gov. Hutchinson asked patrons of restaurants and businesses to comply with an owner’s request to wear a mask on-premises. “It’s unacceptable and it’s embarrassing” to not protect the health of other patrons and workers, he said. “It’s a selfish act to not abide by the guidelines to protect yourself and others.”
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