Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he’s asking the federal government for more ventilators as the death toll from COVID-19 in Arkansas rises to 10.
Hutchinson said Wednesday that 584 people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus, including state Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna. Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said two people over the age of 65 had died from the virus since Tuesday’s briefing.
Murdock’s diagnosis comes days after lawmakers convened for a special legislative session to address a $353 million shortfall in the state’s budget. Smith says Murdock was asymptomatic when tested earlier this week, and that efforts at social distancing made by the legislature were “laudable.”
On Tuesday, Hutchinson voiced concern over the number of out-of-state travelers visiting state parks. Speaking with reporters at the state Capitol Wednesday, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst said state parks would be moving to daytime operation only, beginning Friday.
“It is our desire to keep state parks open, but only where it is safe and manageable to do so,” Hurst said. “This is consistent with 28 other states, and we believe it will further reduce the number of out-of-state visitors that are coming to Arkansas.”
Hurst said more popular trails in the state would be closed, including the Cedar Falls Trail at Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton and the summit trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock. She said cars would be limited to on-site parking only at state parks, and that park rangers could issue citations to people violating social distancing guidelines.
Hutchinson also said he would recommend the U.S. Secretary of the Interior close the Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas.
According to Hutchinson, the state will enter a partnership with Walmart and the laboratory company Quest Diagnostics to open a drive-through coronavirus testing facility in Bentonville that would give priority to first responders and healthcare workers showing symptoms of COVID-19.
“I’m very proud of that partnership with Walmart, they’ve been working on it nationally, but they wanted to be able to bring one of their pilot projects to Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “As we get everything working well in Bentonville, hopefully we’ll be able to expand that to other parts of the state.”
That announcement came as the number of healthcare workers who have tested positive for coronavirus in Arkansas rose by five Wednesday, up to 84 total. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased slightly to 56, with 25 of those patients requiring mechanical ventilation.
Smith said the state’s testing capacity is increasing despite nationwide shortages of testing supplies, and that just over 900 coronavirus tests had been completed in Arkansas over the past 24 hours. Additionally, he said the laboratory company Roche Diagnostics had sent the state a supply of reagents, which are substances used in testing, that will allow the state to complete an additional 480 tests.
Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston urged independent contractors and other self-employed workers not to apply for unemployment insurance until the state receives further input from the federal government.
“We are still [awaiting] guidance from the federal Department of Labor on how that will be implemented. What we’re seeing now is a flood on our system of those workers calling and trying to go ahead and apply for the unemployment insurance. We are not able to process it,” Preston said.