The death toll from COVID-19 in Arkansas rose to eight Tuesday, with the total number of coronavirus cases at 523.
This comes as state health officials and Gov. Asa Hutchinson say the state’s efforts at "flattening the curve" through social distancing appear to be working.
Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith told reporters at the state Capitol he is confident the state remains below the projected number of coronavirus cases, despite nationwide shortages of products used in testing.
"We've had to go to a manual extraction process in our lab, which limits us somewhat, but we were able to do 94 tests… yesterday, and UAMS was able to do 83 in their lab. They've increased from less than 50 the day before. And going forward, we're going to be doing testing in our lab 24/7," Smith said.
Smith said the latest person to die from COVID-19 in the state was over 65 years old and died at the White River Medical Center in Batesville. He said Columbia, Newton and Perry counties have also seen their first positive coronavirus test results, meaning people have tested positive in 51 of the state's 75 counties.
Hutchinson said he has directed his administration to look at ways to limit out-of-state travelers, including the possible closure of state parks.
"It has become a problem. I have received reports that there's a congregation of larger numbers of people along the Buffalo River and some of our state parks that are the most popular, and while you can practice social distancing there, it's not being followed sufficiently," Hutchinson said. "The number of out-of-state travelers is creating the issue because some of them are coming from hot spots that we want to be able to limit and restrict."
Hutchinson said he would not consider limiting crossings at the state's borders or to set up checkpoints to screen travelers for COVID-19 symptoms, as was suggested by Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith.
Hutchinson said he is seeking federal approval of a major disaster declaration for the state, which would free up federal dollars to pay for National Guard assistance with planning and construction of "surge capacity" at local hospitals.
According to Hutchinson, the state received 27,250 unemployment claims as of last Friday, which he says has now likely risen above 30,000. 275 applications have been filed for small business bridge loans from banks and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission,. Hutchinson said he expects notices for all $3 million of the loans to be sent out by early next week. Additionally, documents can now be notarized remotely, eliminating the need for face-to-face contact.
Hutchinson said he is still awaiting a decision on whether to extend school closures in Arkansas past April 17, but that a partnership with the state Department of Education and Arkansas PBS has been instrumental in bringing educational material to students who lack broadband access.
Health Secretary Smith said, of 523 positive COVID-19 cases, 17 are under the age of 18, 158 are over 65 years of age, and 348 are between the ages of 19 and 64. 64 people are hospitalized, with 23 currently on mechanical ventilation.
79 healthcare workers in the state have tested positive, as have 47 staff and patients at nursing homes. According to Smith, 35 people in the state have met the criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for recovery from COVID-19.