The outbreak of COVID-19 in Northwest Arkansas’ Latino community is not slowing down, with new cases in Benton and Washington counties being almost 50% of all new cases reported Thursday. A federal team is arriving in the area Friday to help contain the spread.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson reported Thursday (June 11) during his daily COVID-19 briefing that Washington County had 143 new cases, 32.2% of the 444 new community cases reported in the previous 24 hours. Of the Washington County cases, 93% were from Springdale. Neighboring Benton County had 78 new cases, with the two counties accounting for 49.7% of all new reported statewide cases.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 10,816 on Thursday, up from 10,368 on Wednesday. Of the 448 new cases, four were from correctional facilities. Of the total cases, 3,294 are active cases, 199 are in correctional facilities and 140 in nursing homes. The number of deaths rose from 165 to 171. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 187 on Thursday, up from 181 on Wednesday. There are 45 patients on ventilators, down from 49 on Wednesday. The number of Arkansans recovered is 7,351.
As of Thursday at 1 p.m., there were 2,009,238 U.S. cases and 113,209 deaths. Globally, there were 7,432,275 cases and 418,052 deaths.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said part of the rise in Northwest Arkansas cases is from “household clustering,” in which one person brings the virus back and infects other members of the family. The clustering is also happening in houses in the same neighborhoods, Smith said. He also said poultry plants are a source of a rise in new cases.
Smith said a team from the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to arrive Friday in Northwest Arkansas. He said the team will help expand and/or improve messaging to the Latino community and “interrupt” how the virus is transmitted in the community.
“Their goal is to help us to better understand the dynamics of transmission in the northwest part of the state, particularly in Washington and Benton counties, helping to understand this interplay between transmission in the home, in the community and in the workplace. We are hoping that those insights will better enable us to break those cycles of transmission,” Smith said.
As of June 8, 29% of active cases in Arkansas were within the Latino community, and as of June 9, 24% of those hospitalized were from the Latino community, Smith said.
RESPONSE TO HOSPITAL WARNING
Gov. Hutchinson also responded Thursday to a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon by a Fayetteville hospital administrator — after the governor announced his decision to move to phase two reopening — that described the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a “serious public health emergency.”
Birch Wright, chief operating officer of Fayetteville-based Washington Regional Medical System, said it’s important citizens in Northwest Arkansas take the recent surge in COVID-19 cases seriously. Northwest Arkansas is now leading the state in confirmed total cases of the virus, with Washington County at 1,235 cases and Benton County at 1,137 as of Thursday.
“Over the past month, Northwest Arkansas has witnessed a significant increase in the number of hospitalized individuals with COVID-19,” Wright said “On May 12, there were four COVID-19 positive patients in Northwest Arkansas hospitals. Since then, we’ve seen the number of hospitalizations double every week, and we now have more than 70 COVID-19 positive patients in area hospitals. Washington Regional is also seeing more critically ill COVID-19 patients, with over 30% of those hospitalized requiring ventilator support. As cases increase, Washington Regional has accepted transfers of positive COVID-19 patients from other hospitals in Northwest Arkansas, North Arkansas and Western Oklahoma.
“It is important for our community to understand that we are not seeing more hospitalizations simply because more testing is being done. We are seeing more hospitalizations because more people in our area are being infected with the virus.”
Speaking Thursday during a Zoom webinar organized by the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, the governor agreed with Wright’s sentiment and was “delighted” to see the hospital’s news release stressing the seriousness of the outbreak.
“Please, please understand that I take this seriously,” Hutchinson said. “It is still an emergency. We’re not letting up on those health goals and guidance that we have. But, we can’t be sheltered and we can’t be hunkered down. We’ve got to do business, but we’ve got to do it smartly.”
Hutchinson was asked by a reporter what’s the one thing – if anything – that would change his mind or make him consider slowing down the process of reopening Arkansas?
“I think the process of opening is almost unstoppable,” he said. “Just because people want to make a living. Now, what you’ve got to watch are the hospitalizations. That’s the most important factor.”
Also Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $169.908 million to Arkansas Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) providers diagnosing, testing or caring for individuals with possible or confirmed cases of COVID-19. The award was made available through the Provider Relief Fund created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Michael Tilley with Talk Business & Politics and Paul Gatling with the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal contributed to this report.