More than 2,000 Arkansans have tested positive for the coronavirus since Friday with a record-breaking uptick in new cases over the weekend.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state saw 572 new cases Monday bringing the state’s total to 28,939, while an increase of two COVID-19 deaths brought the state’s death toll to 323.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson again resisted calls for a statewide order to require Arkansans to wear face masks in public.
“Benton County was one of the counties that was going up like a skyrocket, and now you see them coming back down at a very more controlled level. There is not… any mandate in Benton County, but it was through education that they responded to that,” Hutchinson said. “You contrast that to Pulaski County, you've had a mandate here… in the City of Little Rock, and yet you see the cases going up.”
Hutchinson asserted there exists no city or county mask mandate in Benton County, though the Rogers City Council last week voted to adopt a sample mask ordinance approved by the governor through an executive order.
Monday’s uptick comes after the state experienced its highest-ever daily increase in new coronavirus cases on Saturday with 1,061 people testing positive. Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said that record increase was due largely to an outbreak at the Ouachita River Unit state prison, and potentially due to group activities during the Independence Day weekend.
“This past weekend is about when you would expect to see the beginning of a rise related to activity that occurred the weekend before, because the average incubation period is five or six days. There may be a few days’ delay in getting test results back,” Smith said. “It's not possible for us to ascertain at this moment how many of those were related, but it probably was a contributor.”
Smith said more than 500 inmates at the Ouachita River Unit have tested positive for the coronavirus since late last week. Arkansas has 6,510 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, including 127 nursing home residents and 958 inmates of the state’s correctional facilities.
The number of Arkansans hospitalized with the disease rose by 19 Monday for a total of 439, with 89 patients on a ventilator. Pulaski County had the highest increase with 77 residents testing positive. 53 new cases from Washington County and 40 from Sebastian County.
Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling the reopening of schools and colleges the “highest risk” for spreading COVID-19, Hutchinson said he remains committed to opening schools for in-class instruction in about six weeks.
“Quite frankly, if we start school it wouldn't surprise me that in the first month, there will be six or seven schools that will have students that test positive,” Hutchinson said. “It all depends upon where we we’ll be at that particular time, so the question is not if it's going to happen, but how do you respond when it does happen?”
Education Secretary Johnny Key announced last week the start date for K-12 students for the upcoming school year would be pushed back by more than a week. Schools in Arkansas can now reopen between Aug. 24 and 26.