Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday (Nov. 17) pushed back against “pausing” public school athletics and reducing restaurant capacity, both of which were among recommendations in a Nov. 15 White House report to address an “accelerating increase” of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Tuesday’s report from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) showed another record in active COVID cases (12,569), and that hospitalizations rose by 34 to reach a new daily record of 895. The ADH report also showed total confirmed and probable cases rose by 1,554 to 135,902, and deaths rose by 20 to 2,245.
The White House report painted a bleak picture of the pandemic spread in the state in recent weeks.
“Given the change in the slope in the last two weeks post Halloween, Arkansas is on the precipice of a rapid, accelerating increase in cases which will be followed with new hospital admissions,” the report noted.
Following are some of the recommendations made in the report
• Ensure compliance with public health orders including wearing masks.
• Conduct active testing in school for teachers and students where cases are increasing. In accordance with CDC guidelines, masks must be worn by students and teachers in K-12 schools.
• Consider pausing extracurricular school activities, even though athletics are not transmission risks, as the surrounding activities are where transmission is occurring.
• In red and orange counties, effective practices to decrease transmission in public spaces include limiting restaurant indoor capacity to less than 25% and limiting bar hours until cases and test positivity decrease to the yellow zone.
• Continuously monitor testing and contact tracing capacity in all counties to ensure rapid turnaround of test results (within 48 hours) and that all cases are immediately isolated and full contact tracing is conducted (within 72 hours of testing).
• Stay vigilant with nursing home staff and residents; over 40% of nursing homes have COVID positive staff, indicating unmitigated community spread. Ensure all nursing homes, assisted living, and elderly care sites have full testing capacity and are isolating positive staff and residents.
“I think that would be terrible for the health of our young people,” Gov. Hutchinson said when asked why he opposes pausing athletics.
Following are other notes from the White House report.
• Arkansas is in the red zone for cases, indicating 101 or more new cases per 100,000 population, with the 22nd highest rate in the country. Arkansas is in the red zone for test positivity, indicating a rate at or above 10.1%, with the 27th highest rate in the country.
• The following three counties had the highest number of new cases over the past 3 weeks: 1. Pulaski County, 2. Benton County, and 3. Washington County. These counties represent 25.4% of new cases in Arkansas.
• 81% of all counties in Arkansas have moderate or high levels of community transmission (yellow, orange, or red zones), with 55% having high levels of community transmission (red zone).
• Arkansas had 367 new cases per 100,000 population, compared to a national average of 294 per 100,000.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero again warned against bringing family members from nursing homes to a family gathering during the holidays. As he has in recent weeks, Romero also said the virus will continue to spread unless more Arkansans follow health safety guidelines.
“This is like a boulder rolling down a hill. There will come a time when we cannot stop it. It will continue to escalate and will eventually overwhelm our healthcare facilities. Now is the time to act. I cannot stress enough the importance of the three W’s. I’ll say it again, I’m sorry, wear your mask, wash your hands and watch your distance,” Romero said Tuesday.
Part of the effort to contain the spread are compliance checks at restaurants and bars, with Gov. Hutchinson saying the Alcoholic Beverage Control has conducted more than 3,700 inspections since June 29, with 181 written violations and 210 verbal warnings.
Michael Moore, the regulatory administrator for the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration where he oversees the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, Racing Commission, Medical Marijuana Commission and Tobacco Control Division, said a goal with the inspections has been to provide education and improve accountability. He said 93% compliance is good, but the 7% that are non-compliant “can cause some real problems” with respect to COVID spread. Moore said the education will continue, but the department will become more aggressive in enforcing compliance.
“We’ve been doing this for four months. We’ve been giving lots of education. We’ve been making sure everyone understands the guidelines and the rules. … Four months is a long time to be giving warnings, so I think what you are going to see in coming days is when we find people that are non-compliant, there is going to be more accountability,” Moore said.
COVID REPORT – Nov. 17
New known COVID-19 cases, active cases, tests
• 121,153 known cumulative PCR cases, with 1,132 new community cases and 13 cases in correctional facilities
• 14,749 probable cases, up from 14,340 on Monday
• There are 12,569 active cases, up from 12,490 on Monday
• There were 7,452 test results provided in the previous 24 hours.
• There were 3,234 antigen tests in the previous 24 hours with 674 positives.
• 2,057, up 19
• 188 probable COVID-related deaths, up 1
895, up 34
137, up 14
The top five counties with new known cases reported Tuesday were: Pulaski (148), Washington (133), Benton (102), White (67), and Craighead (63). The counties accounted for 45.3% of the 1,150 new community cases.
As of Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., there were 11,260,662 U.S. cases and 247,645 deaths. Globally, there were 55,333,374 cases and 1,332,390 deaths.