Arkansas has once again seen its largest daily increase in new coronavirus cases, due in large part to a resurgence of infections in Arkansas prisons and in poultry plants.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the increase of 731 new cases Friday bringing the state’s total to 11,547, while the state’s COVID-19 death toll rose to 176 after five more Arkansans died.
Arkansas continues to see its highest number of active COVID-19 cases at 3,764, with the number of people hospitalized with the disease also at its highest point at 203 and 49 on a ventilator. Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said the state has not yet reached the peak of this current resurgence of the virus.
“As I look into next week, I do expect the cases to continue to increase. I think that is natural whenever we see the pattern that we've seen over the last week,” Hutchinson said. “Particularly in northwest Arkansas, I expect that to continue to increase until we can get a handle on that and reduce that spread.”
Of the 731 new positive cases announced Friday, 207 were prison inmates mainly from the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Lee County. 199 employees of a Tyson Foods plant in Springdale also tested positive, bringing the total number of cases associated with Arkansas’s poultry industry to 1,353.
Health Department Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jose Romero said the fact that only one of the 199 Tyson employees to test positive showed symptoms of COVID-19 at the time of testing underscores the need to wear face masks.
“While these individuals have no symptoms, they do have the capacity to transmit the virus in the community. We have an obligation to protect our fellow citizens and to do that we should wear masks when in public,” Romero said. “By wearing that mask if we are asymptomatically infected, we decrease that risk significantly.”
Despite the record increase, Hutchinson said the state will still allow businesses to increase their customer capacity to two-thirds by next Monday, and he will not issue an order for Arkansans to wear masks in public.
“That would not be enforceable; it would not be realistic in a rural state whenever they can socially distance in many circumstances. It’s just not Arkansas, so we’re not going to do that,” Hutchinson said.
Washington County had the highest uptick in new cases with 220 people testing positive, with 91 new cases in Benton County, and 32 cases each in Madison and Lee counties. Of the 3,764 people to currently have COVID-19 in Arkansas, 402 are state prison inmates while 144 are nursing home residents.
Hutchinson said he has activated 20 Arkansas National Guard members to perform contact tracing for the Arkansas Department of Health, and that the state is accelerating the bidding process for private sector businesses to increase the state’s number of contact tracers. The governor voiced his confidence in the state’s efforts combating the outbreak in the midst of a resurgence.
“I don't see that what we're doing is not working. We might not be doing it well enough. I think the strategy is the right strategy. Are we implementing the strategy in terms of social distancing being careful and doing the public health requirements? We can do better, but you also look at it nationwide and so many states are dealing with exactly what we're dealing with.”