Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. says he would order residents of the city to stay indoors, but is prevented from doing so by an executive order from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
That was said during the same press briefing Tuesday where Hutchinson announced Arkansas has experienced two more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the total number to 18. An additional 71 people have tested positive for the virus, with a state total of 946.
Arkansas remains one of a handful of states without any local or statewide shelter-in-place orders. Hutchinson and state health officials have said certain characteristics unique to Arkansas, such as lower population density, merit a more targeted approach of only restricting certain businesses and public spaces.
An executive order by Hutchinson allows for local officials to issue curfews and restrictions only if they do not impede commerce. Scott said that while he believes issuing a shelter-in-place order would be the right decision for Little Rock, it may not be appropriate for the rest of the state.
“As the mayor of this city, that’s something that we desire. However, we are working within the confines of the current laws, and in great partnership with the governor,” Scott said.
Scott said he is welcoming a greater partnership with Arkansas State Police to enforce existing measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Little Rock, including an overnight curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“Little Rock is the state’s capital city, the most populated, and [has] a greater density of individuals… and the first area of the state to have community spread,” Scott said. “So we’re taking on the decision to increase enforcement to ensure that we all understand that, when we get through this, we have to take these types of measures to rebound as best as possible.”
Dr. Nate Smith, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, said the two most recent people to die from COVID-19 in Arkansas were older than 65 years of age. A total of 134 healthcare workers in the state have tested positive for the virus, he said, as well as 61 residents of nursing homes.
24 inmates and five staffers at the Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City in eastern Arkansas have also tested positive, and Smith said a team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will arrive at the prison on Wednesday.
As the number of healthcare providers infected with the coronavirus continues to rise, Hutchinson said the Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock will donate 500 rapid coronavirus test kits made by Abbott Laboratories to be used for testing healthcare workers who display COVID-19 symptoms.
Smith said 1,436 coronavirus tests were completed from Monday to Tuesday, the greatest number of tests done in the state over a 24 hour span. He said models done by the University of Washington show Arkansas could see its peak number of coronavirus cases as early as April 24.
Three state lawmakers, representatives Reginald Murdock, Vivian Flowers and Les Warren, tested positive for the coronavirus days after the legislature met for a special session two weeks ago. As the Arkansas General Assembly prepares to meet for a biennial fiscal session on Wednesday, Hutchinson said he expected some lawmakers to vote by proxy and attend committee meetings through teleconferencing software in an attempt to curb any further spread of the virus.