Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’s granting healthcare providers immunity from lawsuits related to the coronavirus outbreak and allowing first responders sickened by COVID-19 to receive workers’ compensation insurance.
The governor announced the two executive orders at a briefing Tuesday, where he said two more people have died from COVID-19 in Arkansas, bringing the state’s death toll to 32. 1,498 people in the state have also tested positive for the coronavirus, with 1,024 considered active cases.
“We’re still going up in the number of cases. I do think we’re getting close to the plateau, but we’re not yet at the peak,” Hutchinson said. “That means we’re not ready to relax our social distancing efforts.”
When asked about President Donald Trump’s assertion that he could supersede states’ authority to ease restrictions on businesses, the governor said he doesn’t anticipate a conflict with the White House.
“With an understanding of President Trump and how he likes to… create a little controversy, and that’s part of his leadership style,” Hutchinson said, “I don’t see an issue going forward. I think they’ll be a good partnership.”
Hutchinson said he spoke with U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr on the outbreak of COVID-19 at a federal prison in Forrest City, where 55 inmates and staffers have tested positive for the virus. That number was unchanged from Monday, as was the 43 cases at the Cummins Unit state prison near Pine Bluff.
Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said 93 residents of nursing homes in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus, while six have died.
“The nursing home-related cases, both residents as well as workers, are 11% of our total cases, so a significant portion. I also mention it because we’ve had relatively few deaths, despite having at least one positive resident or worker in 28 nursing homes,” Smith said.
The department could have as many as 160 staffers working on “contact tracing” of people who may have been exposed to infected patients, Smith said.
Of the two latest people to die from COVID-19 in Arkansas, one was older than 65 years of age, while the other was between 50 and 59 years old. As of Tuesday, 81 people were hospitalized in the state while 29 were on ventilators.
Hutchinson said the state Department of Transportation and Arkansas State Police have developed messages to be used on electronic highway signs to discourage recreational travelers from outside the area coming into the state. The messages remind motorists of the governor’s order excluding recreational travelers from lodging in-state, and are featured on both permanent and mobile electronic signs placed near the state’s borders.