Arkansas continues to see the number of new coronavirus cases rising each day as the state nears 90 deaths from COVID-19.
Speaking with reporters in Texarkana Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state added 97 new positive cases, with 30 of those coming from prisons in the state. In total, the state has 3,665 coronavirus cases with three additional COVID-19 deaths bringing the death toll to 88.
Hutchinson held his daily briefing in Texarkana shortly after it was identified as a site of increasing coronavirus infection, saying the daily uptick of infections comes after what had appeared to be a steady decline in cases.
“What that tells me is that my prediction is coming true; that while we have a downward trend, we're going to have occasions that it goes up a little bit, whether it is in our prison environment or whether it is some other area," Hutchinson said, "and that doesn't mean we're on the wrong path.”
The governor said the state’s three casinos, located in Hot Springs, West Memphis and Pine Bluff, will be allowed to operate at one-third capacity beginning May 18. Patrons will be expected to follow social distancing, and more detailed guidelines for casinos will be released at that date.
With restaurants allowed to resume limited dine-in service next Monday, Hutchinson said the state is still preparing to ease more restrictions on businesses through the three phases of the Trump Administration’s “Opening Up America Again” plan.
“We continually lifted restrictions under phase one but I know that everybody wants to get to phase two, and phase two means that… we need to make sure we don't have a resurgence during the next 14 days. And if we can be successful in that, then we'll be able to go into phase two and open up even more,” Hutchinson said.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the state currently has 710 active coronavirus cases, with 70 people hospitalized with COVID-19. He said the number of inmates from the Cummins Unit state prison who are infected with the virus has risen by 10 for a total of 881.
Despite the state’s growing caseload, Smith said lifting of business restrictions in Arkansas is being done in the safest way possible.
“To hear some people talk, it seems like they think you have to choose between saving lives or saving the economy, and I want to say that really is a false choice because here in Arkansas we're doing both,” Smith said.
One of the three additional COVID-19 deaths from Wednesday to Thursday was connected to a nursing home, Smith said, and 2,174 coronavirus tests were completed in Arkansas in that same time period.