COVID-19 cases rise more than 33% in the past week; hospital numbers rise to 203

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 632 views 

There have been 2,896 new known COVID-19 cases reported in the previous week (June 5-June 12), which is 33.5% of all reported cases since the pandemic began March 11. Friday’s (June 12) COVID-19 report included 731 new known cases, the highest number of new cases in a 24-hour period.

Even with the recent spike in cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the response is to not pull back on reopening the economy but encourage Arkansans to use “simple acts of discipline” such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing. The governor again stressed there is no connection between the recent rise in cases and the reopening of the state economy. He announced June 10 that businesses may move to phase two on June 15.

The majority of new cases reported Friday came from Washington County (220) with most of those coming from 199 positive cases reported Thursday by Tyson Foods at its large Berry Street poultry slaughter and processing facility in Springdale. Of the 1,102 employees tested, 199 were positive, and 198 positive cases were asymptomatic and would not have identified without the test. Of all cases reported in Arkansas since the pandemic began, 1,353, or 11.7%, are connected to poultry processing plants, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH).

Northwest Arkansas continues to drive the dramatic rise in Arkansas’ COVID-19 cases. In addition to the 220 cases in Washington County, Benton County had 91 cases and neighboring Madison County had 32 cases. The three-county region accounted for 65.5% of all new cases reported Friday.

Gov. Hutchinson said the 198 asymptomatic cases at the Tyson plant is a clear lesson that people don’t have to feel sick with the virus to spread it.

“Now think about where those 198 were the night before when they were positive, or the evening before or the day before, you know, in the community, with family, buying groceries,” Gov. Hutchinson said during Friday’s briefing. “This illustrates the importance that just because somebody might feel ill, they’ll stay home, and they isolate themselves. But there’s many out there, I think you can say, that are not showing any symptoms, they are not aware that they are positive, and yet they are capable of spreading the virus.”

The governor said he does expect the rise in cases to continue, especially in Northwest Arkansas “until we can get a handle on that and reduce that spread.” Part of containing the virus requires more contact tracing, and Gov. Hutchinson said he has called up 20 National Guard members to support ongoing contact tracing efforts. He also said the ADH is expediting the process to hire a third-party company to assist with contact tracing. Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said June 10 the third party company would add 350 contact tracers to the more than 200 the state has, with most of the 350 focused on Northwest Arkansas. A team from the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was scheduled to arrive Friday in Northwest Arkansas to help with containment efforts.

Gov. Hutchinson said Arkansans must stay focused on wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing and other actions that prevent the virus from spreading.

“That is what allows us to do business, to go to school, to go to work, to live life, if we follow these guidelines. If not, we’re going to see cases go up for an undetermined period of time in the future,” he said.

Just south of Northwest Arkansas, a 22% rise in cases was reported in Sebastian County, the heart of the state’s third-largest metro area. The state reported 24 new cases Friday in the county, pushing the total from 109 to 133. Rep. Dr. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, told Talk Business & Politics on Thursday the region is “definitely seeing an uptick in positive cases, but that’s not translating into more hospitalizations.” Rep. Johnson, who also is the medical director for Fort Smith EMS and Southwest EMS, expects the rise in Sebastian County cases to continue.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 11,547 on Friday, up from 10,816 on Thursday. Of the 731 new cases, 207 were from correctional facilities, with most of those in the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Lee County. Of the total cases, 3,764 are active cases, 402 are in correctional facilities and 144 in nursing homes. The number of deaths rose from 171 to 176. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 203 on Friday, up from 187 on Thursday. There are 49 patients on ventilators, up from 45 on Thursday. The number of Arkansans recovered is 7,607.

Of the total cases reported in Arkansas since the pandemic began, 51.5% are in the white population, 30.7% black, and 21.2% Hispanic.

As of Friday at 1 p.m., there were 2,031,173 U.S. cases and 114,065 deaths. Globally, there were 7,570,801 cases and 422,981 deaths.

Talk Business & Politics reporter Tina Dale contributed to this report.