Arkansas has added more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day as more than 48,000 people have tested positive since the pandemic began.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state saw 1,011 new cases Friday, bringing the total to 48,039. An additional six Arkansans died from COVID-19 for a death toll of 521.
Speaking in his daily briefing, Hutchinson said he believes the spread of COVID-19 in Arkansas is under control despite the sharp uptick.
"Whenever you look at over the last five or six days, it's been very flat. I think everybody sees that it's been very flat. Obviously today there's been a spike up, but you look at the overall trend line and it's flat. Now obviously we want it to go down, but I think whenever it's flat that means it hasn't reached a tipping point that it is out of control," Hutchinson said.
Pulaski County saw the highest increase in new cases Friday with 182 residents testing positive, including 100 inmates of the Wrightsville Unit state prison. The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by nine to 523, with 116 patients on a ventilator.
With Arkansas schools set to reopen in just over two weeks, Education Secretary Johnny Key said the state plans to use $20 million in CARES Act funding to provide two weeks of paid leave for school employees needing to enter quarantine.
"$20 million is an estimate. We try to estimate high because we certainly do not know the level of outbreaks that we could have, but we want to be prepared when and if it does happen," Key said. "This is available to teachers and support staff, classified employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers."
The funding would last through the end of the calendar year and is still subject to approval by state lawmakers. Key also clarified the state’s mandate that schools should be open five days per week upon reopening for in-class instruction the week of Aug. 24.
"That has been interpreted as the Department [of Education] is expecting schools to have every student on campus every day, and that's not at all the expectation," Key said. "The expectation is that the campuses are open for those students and those families who do need that instruction, who need those therapies or who need that intensive support that is only available to them on campus."
Gov. Hutchinson said the state is still considering which factors to weigh when deciding if schools should move to remote learning to avoid spreading COVID-19.
"One of them that you will look at is the positivity rate... you'll look at where the school district is and how many schools are impacted by the particular positive case," Hutchinson said. "You're also looking at the number of cases as a factor, I think you're looking at the number of [tests] that we're doing in the community.”
Hutchinson also announced he's signed an executive order reinforcing Secretary of State John Thurston’s opinion that concern over catching or spreading COVID-19 is a valid reason to request an absentee ballot for the November election. The order also grants election officials additional time to prepare for absentee ballots to be counted.
Arkansans seeking to vote via absentee ballot must have their application received by their county clerk by Oct. 27. As of Friday Arkansas had 7,158 active COVID-19 cases, including 53 nursing home residents and 687 inmates of correctional facilities.
Friday’s increase of 1,011 new cases marks the third-highest single-day increase in new positive test results since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and the third time Arkansas has added over 1,000 new cases in a single day.