Four more people have died from COVID-19 in Arkansas, bringing the state’s total number of deaths from the disease to 37. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the uptick at his daily briefing on the outbreak Thursday, saying the number of people in Arkansas who have tested positive for the virus has risen to 1,620.
Though the total number of coronavirus infections continues to grow, Hutchinson said the state’s daily increase in cases appears to be on the decline.
“There will be spikes from time to time because we will be investigating a hot spot or a potential outbreak, the cases might go up,” Hutchinson said. “We are pleased with that trajectory that we’re on right now.”
Of the 1,620 total people to test positive for the virus, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said 1,035 are considered active cases. He said 85 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, with 21 on a ventilator.
Hutchinson spoke with reporters shortly before a call with President Donald Trump and other governors on reopening businesses in the U.S. Trump has previously said he has the authority to lift restrictions on commerce instead of governors.
When asked what a gradual re-opening of businesses in Arkansas would look like, Hutchinson said he would defer to recommendations from medical experts as well as guidelines from the federal government.
“I want to see what the guidance from the White House is today. I want to hear from our medical advisory group tomorrow. We’ll be meeting with business groups as well, and so those are decisions that we’re thinking about. The key thing is that we don’t want Arkansans to think we’re over this,” Hutchinson said.
Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said the state has a new website for residents to apply for unemployment insurance as roughly 150,000 unemployment claims have been processed since the outbreak began. The state’s hotline for unemployment claims will now be open six days each week, he said, and will accept calls at 1-844-908-2178 from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Preston said self-employed Arkansans can sign up for email updates that will advise them when they can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. He said the U.S. Small Business Administration has already approved loans to help companies in the state pay employees during the pandemic.
“Arkansas fared very well in that, with 14,803 businesses in the state of Arkansas being approved for the Payroll Protection Plan, and that amounts to over $2.1 billion for Arkansas businesses,” Preston said.
Health Secretary Smith said that while the state’s increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations appear to be holding steady, residents should still follow recommended social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
“It’s way too early to do a victory lap, but it looks like we should start planning ahead for when we’re after the peak,” Smith said. “The governor has set up a committee to look at our post-peak response, and I wanted to let Arkansans know that we’re looking at these things very carefully.”
Smith said 223 healthcare workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as 118 residents of nursing homes. Of the four latest people to die from COVID-19 in Arkansas, two were under the age of 65 while two were over 65.
Smith said no new coronavirus infections have been documented at prisons in the state. The Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City has seen 55 inmates and staff test positive, while 86 inmates and staff at Arkansas Community Correction in Little Rock have been infected as well.
As the fiscal session of the state legislature ended Thursday, Gov. Hutchinson said he did not anticipate vetoing any of the “couple hundred” bills coming to him for approval over the next few days.