Arkansas COVID-19 Cases Rise to 22, Little Rock Institutes Nightly Curfew

Mar 16, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, surrounded by health and educations officials, gives a briefing on coronavirus Monday at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayettteville.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas has six new presumptive positive cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number to 22.

Of the six new positive cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said two came from central Arkansas, while two others appeared in Cleburne County for the first time.

Speaking at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville Monday, Hutchinson said he expects to see significantly more positive tests as testing becomes more readily available and that the number will grow drastically.

"You will see a significant increase in the number of tests and the reporting of those tests that come back," Hutchinson said. "And yes, when that happens, while the majority of [tests] will be negative, we will see an increase [in] the number of positive cases across the state of Arkansas." 

Meanwhile Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. says the city is instituting a mandatory curfew from midnight to 5 a.m., beginning Wednesday.

Speaking at City Hall Monday, Scott said the curfew, which will not apply to healthcare workers and people who work overnight, is an effort to better practice "social distancing" to curb the spread of coronavirus.

"This curfew is to further discourage unnecessary social gathering. Let’s continue to support our local eateries by utilizing the various take-out and delivery options they’re providing," Scott said. "Again, we want to stress and strongly urge all of our local eateries, restaurants to continue on with business but to strongly encourage them to transition to take-out and delivery options."

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. briefs reporters on new restrictions being put into place to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Credit Daniel Breen / KUAR News

This comes after the first instance of community spread of the coronavirus was confirmed last week in Little Rock by the Arkansas Department of Health. Scott said the city will also postpone all events and meetings with 50 or more attendees, and all city facilities will be closed to the public starting Wednesday with employees allowed to work remotely.

Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey said officers will not stop motorists driving during the curfew hours unless they are breaking traffic laws. Instead, officers will make contact with people "in public" between midnight and 5 a.m., seven days a week.

"We are going to proactively remind them that the curfew is in effect, and we believe that based on the relationship that we have with the community, we truly believe that they will be receptive of the information that we provide them," Humphrey said.

Speaking alongside Hutchinson, Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said staffers will significantly increase the number of tests they can complete daily starting this week.

"We'll have an in-house test that will allow an 8, 10 hour turnaround time for COVID-19 testing," Patterson said. "By this weekend, we’ll be able to do about 250 assays a day."

While Scott says he cannot order bars and restaurants to close without the approval of the Health Department, he said the overnight curfew would help limit social contact.

"This is not the time to panic at all. We are over-prepared, we're taking every precautionary measure. We want to take this situation seriously but not panic at all," Scott said.

Humphrey echoed Scott’s sentiment that the curfew, which will be in effect until further notice, will seek to discourage social interaction and will not be a punitive measure.

"The main thing I want the citizens to understand is this is not going to be anything that will prevent them from their normal duties. Our main focus is to ensure that we reduce or minimize the potential of COVID-19 from spreading," Humphrey said.

Scott also said Tuesday’s meeting of the city’s Board of Directors would be moved to the nearby Robinson Center, and that other city board and commission meetings are canceled until further notice.