96 Coronavirus Cases In Arkansas; Nursing Homes Affected, School Testing Canceled

Mar 20, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson briefs reporters at the State Capitol alongside Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith and Education Secretary Johnny Key.
Credit Daniel Breen / KUAR News

For the second time this week, Arkansas has seen its largest single-day increase in the number of coronavirus cases; up to 96 Friday, from 62 on Thursday.

The increase also marks the first cases reported in Benton and Greene counties, and the presence of the virus in three nursing homes across Arkansas.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson briefed reporters on the increase Friday at the State Capitol, the day after he ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to suspend in-house dining services. Hutchinson said he would not seek to further limit business in Arkansas, but that ultimately it’s at the discretion of the Arkansas Department of Health.

"That obviously is determined based upon the health care guidance and the circumstances in Arkansas but there is no intent to further restrict or close businesses and industrial activity in Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "There are many, many companies that are engaged in essential activities and manufacturing even health care products that are essential." 

The Arkansas Department of Health said 13 cases of COVID-19 have been identified at Briarwood Nursing Home and Rehab in Little Rock, with four staff members testing positive. Apple Creek Nursing and Rehab in Centerton and The Villages of General Baptist West in Pine Bluff each reported one positive test result.

Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said a patient at the Pine Bluff facility was likely exposed to a physician who had contact with the first confirmed coronavirus patient in Arkansas, but said he was unaware how the virus spread to the other two facilities.

As schools remain closed in Arkansas until April 17, Education Secretary Johnny Key said he would suspend ACT Aspire testing statewide. Key said he would seek a waiver from the United States Department of Education, and that the suspension of testing would have an impact on school accountability measures.

"The long term impact of canceling this year's ACT Aspire is significant because we are working on developing a longitudinal system for accountability, and when you take one piece or several pieces of data, as which will happen now, out of that calendar so to speak, you're going to have a significant cascading effect," Key said.

Gov. Hutchinson said $30 million allocated from the state Department of Finance and Administration will go toward building a stockpile of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks and respirators. Additionally, he said the United States Small Business Administration had approved his disaster declaration, freeing up loans to small businesses in Arkansas of as much as $2 million.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she would allocate $3 million from a Consumer Education and Enforcement Fund to go toward the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Quick Action Loan Program, adding to $4 million committed by the governor earlier in the week.

Rutledge also warned against scams related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as well as price gouging of items like masks and hand sanitizer.

"We have about 24 active investigations ongoing on price gouging. Likewise, we have put out an alert on fake websites. There are literally thousands of fake coronavirus and COVID-19 websites," Rutledge said. "These are phishing scams where people are attempting to get your personal information, your social security number." 

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson echoed Rutledge’s remarks, asking Hutchinson to allow hospitals in the state to purchase equipment collectively to avoid unscrupulous sellers.

Department of Health Secretary Smith said, of the 96 people with COVID-19 in Arkansas, eight are children, 26 are over the age of 65, and 62 are between the age of 19 and 64. 71% of patients are white, 17% are black and 12% are another race or unknown to the Health Department.