Arkansas is set to receive 90,000 COVID-19 testing kit supplies in May from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday (May 6). He said the supply support allowed the state to set a goal of 60,000 tests to be conducted in May.
Reaching the goal would more than match the number of tests conducted in Arkansas since the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), there have been 58,713 tests conducted as of Wednesday.
Gov. Hutchinson said he and Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith would on Friday provide more detail on their plan to reach the 60,000 testing goal. He said reaching the goal will require the state to get the testing supplies distributed and the public to step up and get tested.
Smith said testing to date shows it’s not necessarily older Arkansans who are most likely to test positive for COVID-19. Smith provided the following age data on the percentage of positive tests:
Age 0-17: 3.2%
Age 18-24: 8.3%
Age 25-44: 38%
Age 45-64: 33.6%
Age 65 and older: 16.9%
“The majority of people who have been infected in Arkansas are really in those younger age groups. So it’s very important that everybody take those precautions – the social distancing, handwashing, wearing a mask out in public. These are things that will help to prevent the spread not only for older people, but for the younger people as well,” Smith said during Wednesday’s press conference.
COVID CASES, ‘EMERGING’ HOT SPOTS
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 3,568 on Wednesday, up from 3,496 on Tuesday. Of the 72 new cases, 20 were from correctional facilities. Of the total cases, 1,374 are active cases, with 2,109 recoveries. The number of deaths rose from 83 to 85. Of the 85 deaths, 33 are nursing home related and six were inmates at Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Prison System. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 69 on Wednesday, down from 89 Tuesday. Of the COVID-19 patients, 14 were on ventilators, down from 16 on Tuesday.
As of Wednesday at 1 p.m., there were 1,212,123 U.S. cases and 71,526 deaths. Globally, there were 3,711,425 cases and 259,796 deaths.
Smith said areas with a higher growth rate in positive COVID-19 cases in the previous two days are Forrest City, Jonesboro, Texarkana and West Memphis. Smith said the rising number of cases in West Memphis is “expected spillover” from the high number of cases in Memphis.
The rise in the number of cases in Forrest City could be related to the pandemic outbreak in the federal prison in the city, Smith said. A University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences mobile testing lab has detected a growing number of cases in the Forrest City (St. Francis County) area, Smith said, adding that “we’re concerned” about workers at the prison returning to the community.
REOPENING THE ECONOMY
Steuart Walton, chairman of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, said during Wednesday’s press conference he is “encouraged by the progress we’re making” to get the state reopened.
He said the state will launch a website Friday to be a “consolidated area” with various guidelines for different business sectors that have been given the green light to begin limited reopening. Walton said he realizes the guidelines aren’t perfect, and they will be adjusted as they receive feedback from businesses. But he did stress that business owners must do their best to follow the rules and reopen in a manner that gives their employees and customers confidence.
“It does remain that businesses set the example in terms of following the guidelines issued by the Department of Health. I just can’t emphasize enough how important that is, because across the board, as people start to reengage in the economy, we’re going to have to find a way to do so in a safe way. And the best way we know how to do that is by following these guidelines from the Department of Health,” Walton said.
Gov. Hutchinson said he has been in businesses following the rules, and in businesses “not so much.”
• Gov. Hutchinson said he signed an executive order waiving some fees for the oil and gas industry struggling with historic low prices in the energy market. He said the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission is also reviewing other measures for potential relief.
• Smith said feedback from a COVID-19 dental advisory group successfully lobbied to move the date from May 18 to May 11 allowing dentists to open again for non-critical procedures. He said the ADH will work with the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners to conduct “unannounced visits” to dental offices to ensure guidelines are being followed.
• The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Hutchinson asking for him to broaden protections for civil liability to all businesses in the state.
“Arkansas businesses are in survival mode, yet they have stepped up in amazing and heroic ways to respond to the crisis. Those efforts should not lead to an onslaught of class actions and private rights of action seeking to capitalize on this crisis. This State cannot sustain such further damage,” the letter noted.