With the number of COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths reaching new highs, Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (July 20) said the state is not likely to meet its July testing goal of 200,000, and he defended his mask mandate by saying it is “not a burden to live with.”
The statewide mask mandate, announced July 16, became effective Monday. The governor issued a statewide mandate citing the rising number of cases and input from healthcare workers, legislators and others who said it is necessary to address the spread of COVID-19. Masks will be required in indoor and outdoor settings where exposed to non-household members and social distancing of six feet or more is not assured. (Link here for the state directive on the mandate.)
More than 20 new cases were reported Monday in 11 Arkansas counties, indicating that the virus is spreading widely in the state and “not just simply congregated in one area,” Gov. Hutchinson said. The continued growth in cases supports the need for a mask mandate, he said.
“It’s still surprising to me as to how many think that wearing a mask is about protecting yourself. It’s really about helping your neighbor. It’s about being together as a state and simply working together to try to get through this pandemic, this challenge that we face. And I think that you will see from statistics today, that we still have a lot of work to do,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
When asked about some Arkansas sheriffs and police chiefs who have said they will not enforce the mandate, Gov. Hutchinson said he is “very pleased with the response” from law enforcement who “understand that they have a role to play in education, in reminding people” about mask use.
The governor also said the goal to obtain 200,000 test results in July will be “a difficult goal to achieve” unless commercial labs are able to increase capacity. A national shortage of testing supplies and the demand on commercial labs from rising cases in Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and other states has reduced the number of commercial lab test results in Arkansas. Arkansas reported 112,646 test results as of July 19, about 5,929 a day. On that pace, the state will end the month with just under 184,000 test results.
“We’re looking at ways to do it, but it is going to be a challenge with the reduction in commercial lab production,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
Gov. Hutchinson also said Monday he is authorizing 10 National Guard members to support case management work at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville for 30 days. The Guard members will help the hospital with patient case work that doesn’t require a trained nurse.
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 33,927 on Monday, up from 33,228 on Sunday, and up 6.8% from 31,762 on Friday. Of the 699 new cases, 11 were from correctional facilities. There are 7,127 active cases. The number of deaths rose from 357 to 363. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 471 on Monday, up from 453 on Sunday. There are 111 patients on ventilators, up from 105 on Sunday. Of the known cases since March 11, 26,397 have recovered.
The top six counties for new infections were Washington (94), Pulaski (60), Benton (57), Craighead (28), and Mississippi and Pope each with 26. The six counties accounted for 42.3% of the 688 new community cases reported Monday.
As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 3,794,355 U.S. cases and 140,716 deaths. Globally, there were 14,567,109 cases and 607,187 deaths.