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State Sees Highest Ever Number Of New COVID-19 Cases, Expands Absentee Voting Amid Safety Questions

Governor's Office

After what appeared to be the beginning a downward trend, Arkansas had its highest ever recording of new COVID-19 cases, with the total now surpassing 22,000.

The state saw 878 new cases, a number that more than doubles the number of new cases announced on Wednesday.  The total number of coronavirus cases is now 22,075.  Of the total number of cases, 6,098 are considered active, an increase from Wednesday, when the state saw its first day of fewer active cases in days.

The death toll increased by two for a total of 279. Hospitalizations continued their downward trend, decreasing by three for a total of 272.

Speaking during the governor’s daily briefing on the pandemic on Thursday, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said though hospitalizations are going down, due to the number of new cases, they will likely increase again.

Smith also spoke on the ideal window to test someone for COVID-19 as testing someone before they exhibit symptoms could lead to a false negative test because the virus levels are not high enough to be detected yet.

"If someone who’s been exposed to someone, say someone in your family tested positive. You say, 'Well, I want to know, am I infected?' so you go and you get a test, it comes back negative, you say 'Great, I have a negative test result.' Well, you still could be infected. And that’s why someone in that setting needs to be quarantined for 14 days because we may have just tested them too early," Smith said.

Hot Spring County led the state in new cases, with 151 new cases. According to Smith, a large portion of those cases comes from Ouachita River Correctional Unit.

This record-breaking number of cases comes days before the Fourth of July holiday. When asked if the state is looking into additional measures to further curb the spread of the coronavirus in the state, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state thinks about that every day.

"The key of course is the identification of the virus, which is the testing. It is the follow-up through contact tracing and the isolation. That strategy is effective we just have to continue to implement that, along with the individual discipline of each resident of Arkansas," Hutchinson said.

Arkansas still does not have a statewide mandate requiring the wearing of facemasks, nor is it allowing counties and cities to pass stricter restrictions than what is on the statewide level.

Arkansans with concerns over the coronavirus are now able to request an absentee ballot for the November election, no questions asked due to a reinterpretation of the current requirements from the Arkansas Secretary of State.

Secretary of State John Thurston made an announcement on June 25 that expanded who qualified for absentee voting last week

Thurston, speaking during the daily briefing, said in addition to allowing anyone who wants an absentee ballot to apply for one, the state has already spent some funding from the federal CARES Act on materials like personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and new disposable stylus pens for those who want to go to the polls in person.

"So you can sign your name on the signature pad, go to the machine and vote, cast your vote and then throw the pen away. So when you come to the polling sites, technically you should not have to touch a single thing, other than that stylus pen. So we’re very excited about that," Thurston said.

Chairmen of both the state Democratic and Republican parties, Michael John Gray and Doyle Webb, also attended the briefing and voiced their support for the expansion of absentee voting. Hutchinson said he was also in full agreement with Thurston’s decision.

Applications for the absentee ballot must be received by Oct. 27 and the absentee ballots themselves must be submitted by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

To apply for the ballot, residents can call their local county clerk, or they can find the application on the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website.

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