Coronavirus cases are on the rise among members of Arkansas’s Hispanic population as the state appears to be on track to reach a second peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday the state saw an additional 151 coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 6,180. Two more Arkansans died from COVID-19 bringing the state’s death toll to 119.
Hutchinson also announced Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith, a fixture of the governor's daily briefings on the pandemic, will leave his current post at the end of August to take a position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Hutchinson said the Health Department's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jose Romero will serve as interim Health Secretary following Smith's departure.
Speaking in Tuesday's daily briefing, Hutchinson said a steady increase in new cases and hospitalizations could qualify as a second peak of the coronavirus’s spread in Arkansas.
“We’re really at a critical point in our journey during this pandemic, and the critical point is whether we are at our second peak and we'll start leveling off… or go down, or level, or whether we go up,” Hutchinson said. “The direction that we go from here totally depends upon the discipline and the commitment of the people of Arkansas to avoid circumstances in which they will contribute to the spread.”
Smith said about 42% of the state’s new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours were among Hispanic Arkansans, with the highest increases seen in Washington, Sevier and Benton counties. Smith said the virus also continues to spread in facilities related to the state’s poultry industry.
“[As of Monday] we had a total of 301 cases… who were employed by poultry businesses, and the top counties in which those cases were found was Benton County with a total of 69, Yell County with 54, Washington County with 44,” Smith said.
Arkansas had 1,729 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday with 72 among nursing home residents, 466 among prison inmates, and 1,191 among people unassociated with either.
Despite reports of Arkansans not practicing social distancing during Memorial Day activities, Hutchinson said the state will not ramp up enforcement of Health Department directives past what it already has.
“What we have in Arkansas are guidelines and so… local law enforcement is not going to go out there based upon a guideline and arrest anybody we haven’t asked anybody to do that,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the state has sent nearly $17 million dollars in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments to self-employed Arkansans affected by the coronavirus outbreak.