Three more people have died from the disease caused by the coronavirus in Arkansas bringing the state’s total number of COVID-19 deaths to 21.
Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith announced the deaths at Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily coronavirus briefing Thursday, where Hutchinson said 1,094 people have tested positive for the virus.
Despite the increase of 71 new cases from Wednesday to Thursday, Hutchinson said Arkansas remains below projections and behind other states in the region for the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
“What we’re doing, what the public is doing, works, and they ought to be encouraged by that. This could change in a moment’s notice if we don’t do the right thing,” Hutchinson said.
Smith said the number of people hospitalized in Arkansas fell slightly to 73 Thursday, reflecting an increase of 21 new hospital admissions coupled with 24 people who are no longer hospitalized. Smith said 31 people remain on mechanical ventilation, and all three people to die from COVID-19 from Wednesday to Thursday were over the age of 60.
While Hutchinson pointed to Arkansas’s relatively low rate of hospitalizations compared to nearby states as a sign that the state’s efforts at “flattening the curve” are working, he said the numbers serve as a warning for Arkansans not to travel out of state.
“Louisiana’s certainly a hot spot, some of the other states have that potential. We need to reduce our recreational, our unnecessary out-of-state travel. That shouldn’t be happening,” Hutchinson said.
When asked about how a Health Department directive limiting elective medical procedures would apply to surgical abortions, Smith said the department would “look at further action” against a Little Rock-based clinic that has seen numerous patients from outside Arkansas.
Smith said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for “essential” workers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus but do not develop any symptoms.
“In those cases… they are permitted to return to work wearing a mask and having frequent temperature checks and symptom checks,” Smith said. “If they develop symptoms or a fever at any point, then they’re of course excluded and they need to get tested.”
Smith said people who have tested positive for the virus must remain at home for seven days after the onset of symptoms, and until they have not had a fever for three days.
Earlier Thursday, members of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee failed to advance a proposal by state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, to allow for no-excuse absentee voting in Arkansas for the November general election. When asked about the proposal, Hutchinson said he would be willing to allow Arkansans to vote by mail or online if the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“We don’t know whether in November there’s going to be an emergency or not. We all hope that there will not be, and so I think that issue just has to be addressed in a different fashion,” Hutchinson said.
Officials with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the state Department of Human Services also highlighted the need for mental health services amid the virus outbreak. DHS Deputy Director Paula Stone said Arkansans can call a hotline at (844) 763-0198 to connect them with mental health and addiction assessment and treatment.