The number of new coronavirus cases and people hospitalized with COVID-19 has risen for a second day in Arkansas as the state nears 100 deaths from the disease.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an increase of 130 new cases Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 4,366. One additional death from COVID-19 brought the state’s death toll to 98.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said businesses in the state are not yet ready to enter a second phase of reopening.
“Obviously when you see two days of increasing cases and two days of increase in hospitalization, that causes you to pause and say we've got to make sure that we remind everybody to be careful, not to take this for granted, and not just to assume that we're going to be at phase two in 14 days,” Hutchinson said.
Of the 130 new cases identified Thursday, 113 were from the general public while 17 were from correctional facilities in the state. Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the state is expanding testing at the Randall Williams Unit state prison in Pine Bluff, where at least 50 inmates and staff have been infected.
“We had completed the testing in the building… that we were testing in, but we've decided to extend that testing to other buildings within that unit so there's more testing going on at that facility,” Smith said.
Cases among inmates and staff have also been identified at the Cummins Unit and Barbara Ester Unit state prisons in southeast Arkansas, Arkansas Community Correction in Little Rock, and the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City.
The latest increase brings the state’s total number of active COVID-19 cases to 928, with 305 from prisons and 101 from nursing homes. Five more Arkansans were hospitalized with the disease Thursday, for a total of 69 people hospitalized and 10 on a ventilator.
Hutchinson said the distribution of new cases across Arkansas does not indicate any large outbreaks in particular parts of the state.
“Union County had 21, Craighead County 14, Pulaski 13, Jefferson 11, 10 in Sharp County, and the rest were scattered around the state in small numbers,” Hutchinson said. “So you can see that they're not all congregated in one with 70 cases, they are scattered in different counties across the state.”
Hutchinson said Walmart will be opening new testing sites in West Memphis, Jonesboro, Hot Springs and Texarkana, and continue to operate existing sites in Fort Smith, Bentonville and Little Rock.
Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said freelancers and other self-employed Arkansans affected by the coronavirus pandemic will soon receive assistance from the federal government.
“Barring any unforeseen issues or glitches in the testing, sometime in that week of May 18 we’d like to have those payments made available,” Preston said.
Preston said roughly 30,000 self-employed Arkansans have applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments since the state began accepting applications last week. Overall, Preston says Arkansans have received a total of $357.9 million through various unemployment assistance programs since the outbreak began.