Arkansas COVID-19 Cases Top 700; Officials Say Cargo Capacity Needed

Apr 3, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks with reporters in his daily coronavirus press briefing at the Arkansas State Capitol.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

The leader of Arkansas’s largest academic medical center says more cargo capacity is needed to provide adequate personal protective equipment to the state’s healthcare workers.

Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, made the appeal during Friday’s news conference by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said the state currently has 704 positive cases of the coronavirus.

“If anybody has resources that they can divert to help us with transporting personal protective equipment from overseas into the United States, that’s the number one thing that we could use right now,” Patterson said. “If I could move… an April 11th cargo date up to April 6th or 7th, we’d do that in a heartbeat.”

Hutchinson said the state received its first commercial shipment of personal protective equipment Friday morning, which will be distributed to healthcare providers by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. Patterson said the shipment consists of gloves and face masks ordered from overseas suppliers, as well as hand sanitizer from within the United States.

Patterson said shipments of equipment will continue throughout next week, and that a chartered cargo flight scheduled to arrive in Arkansas on April 12 will bring 30 days’ worth of equipment. He added that cosmetics company L’Oreal has agreed to provide Arkansas with 550 gallons of hand sanitizer per week, free of charge.

Hutchinson said the state has placed an order for ventilators, though it’s not certain if or when the order will be filled.

“I don’t want to get too optimistic about it, because they can be diverted, we can be outbid, we can be met with disappointment along that way,” Hutchinson said.

Though no new deaths from COVID-19 were announced Friday, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said half of the 12 people who have died from the coronavirus were residents of central Arkansas. He said three lived in northwest Arkansas and two in the northeast part of the state, with one person’s residency status unknown to the Health Department.

Smith said 71 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 26 on mechanical ventilation. He said, of the 39 patients that have ever been on a ventilator, five have successfully come off ventilation while nine have died.

Smith said, despite reports of slow turnaround from commercial laboratories, a total of 9,626 coronavirus tests have been completed in the state. He said two new cases have been identified at The Lakes at Maumelle Health and Rehabilitation facility in central Arkansas.

Hutchinson and Smith again voiced their opposition to a statewide “shelter-in-place” order. Hutchinson said local orders in Benton and Saline County requiring minors to stay at home are valid as they would not hinder commerce. Those orders, made by Saline County Judge Jeff Arey and Benton Mayor Tom Farmer, are set to go into effect on Monday.

Hutchinson said he plans to announce further social distancing guidelines aimed at businesses in the state, as well as additional enforcement actions, at Saturday’s briefing.