Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday (May 14) Arkansas is not prepared to move to phase 2 as new cases – up 130 on Thursday – and hospitalizations have risen this week.
While the state moved to phase 1 of re-opening Arkansas for a variety of business activity on May 4, federal guidelines allow for a progression to phase 2 within two weeks if improving health conditions are met.
“We are not prepared to go into phase 2 next Monday (May 18),” Hutchinson said in his daily press briefing. “We want to have a few more days to see if the last two days reflect an uptick… or a pattern to watch for.”
The governor said he did not think the recent trends reflected a big outbreak in a community. He described the rise in numbers as sporadic across the state.
Phase 2 would allow businesses to open more robustly. For instance, restaurants would be able to expand their seating capacity from one-third to two-thirds of normal levels.
As of Thursday, Arkansas had a cumulative 4,366 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 130 from the previous day. One hundred thirteen (113) of those new cases are in the general community, not prisons or nursing homes. There are 928 active cases with 101 residing in nursing homes, 305 in prisons, and 522 in the general population.
Arkansas hospitalizations rose to 69 and the number of deaths climbed to 98 from Wednesday to Thursday.
Nationally, there have been 1,401,948 COVID-19 cases resulting in 243,430 recoveries and 85,066 deaths. Worldwide, there have been 4,408,618 cases with 300,315 deaths.
Hutchinson and Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Department of Health, spent a portion of the press conference discussing contact tracing, the process by which health officials will identify and attempt to corral COVID-19 cases. When a new case is identified, that person is interviewed by a nurse. The contact tracer will call a list of contacts given by the infected person. All of those contacts are enrolled in a state database and a decision on testing and quarantining is made.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston also gave a report on the status of the state’s unemployment funding. The Arkansas Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has a current balance of $778 million. To date, $109 million has been paid to laid-off workers.
Another $248 million has awarded to the state to assist with unemployment benefits from the CARES Act, the federal bill that addressed a number of coronavirus funding needs. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance fund, another federal tool, has pumped an additional $500,000 into Arkansas, according to Preston.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin announced that the Taiwanese government consulate in Houston donated 100,000 face masks to combat COVID-19 to Arkansas. Arkansas has been receiving personal protective equipment (PPE) from a number of out-of-state and out-of-country sources.
“Thank you to the people of Taiwan & @TECO_HTX (Taiwan in Houston) for donating 100,000 face masks to #Arkansas to combat #COVID19! Taiwan is a friend & ally of the U.S., & I believe they should be allowed to participate in the @WHO,” Griffin tweeted.