Arkansas has had another death from COVID-19, officials announced Monday, bringing the total in the state to seven. Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith said the person was over the age of 65 and is the first death connected to a nursing home. He said Arkansas was up to 473 positive cases, an increase of 47 from Sunday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that he is allocating an additional $45 million to aid in the purchase of personal protective equipment and ventilators. An original allocation of $30 million wasn’t enough, he said.
"Based upon the demand and need that’s out there in projecting the future, that $30 million investment in protective equipment is not going to be sufficient to last us through this crisis," Hutchinson said.
The governor said the additional money was critical as Arkansas competes with other states to secure delivery of equipment and testing kits.
"Clearly, [the Federal Government’s] focus is on the hotspots, from New York City to California to New Orleans," Hutchinson said. "As they’re having to devote an enormous amount of resources to those venues, it makes it even more challenging for states like Arkansas to get in that supply chain."
The additional funding comes from the state’s recently signed COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund, negotiated in a three-day special session that wrapped up Saturday morning, just after midnight.
Hutchinson also announced $1.25 billion in federal funds will enter the state through the federal CARES Act, which was signed into law last Friday. To ensure proper use of the money, Hutchinson said he had signed an executive order to create a 15-member steering committee.
Hutchinson said he believes the federal funds must be used specifically for COVID-19 expenses and could not help cover the state’s expected $353 million budget shortfall.
"[The CARES Act] states that it will be used for costs related to the COVID-19 crisis, and we’re looking for further interpretations," Hutchinson said. The funds would be used to purchase medical equipment for the current crisis, he said, as well as potentially for the future.
Secretary Stacy Hurst of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism encouraged Arkansans to continue to use state parks, but reminded people to be mindful of social distancing. Measures have been instituted in parks to protect staff and visitors, she said. That includes limiting camping to self-contained recreational vehicles and closing visitor centers and museums.
"We want to continue to provide this valuable resource to the public," Hurst said, "but we need everyone to take very seriously the responsibility they have to help flatten the curve [of the expected rise in cases] and reduce the spread of the virus."
Hurst said park rangers will patrol and monitor parks to ensure visitors aren’t congregating in large groups. The state has also instituted contactless check in for camping to reduce contact between visitors and staff.