Over 1,500 people in Arkansas have tested positive for the coronavirus since Friday as the state’s death toll from COVID-19 nears 300.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday that Arkansas saw 439 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 24,253, while five more deaths from COVID-19 brought the state’s death toll to 292.
In his daily briefing, Hutchinson said the state has entered the first of two contracts to increase the number of people working to track the spread of the coronavirus.
“We thought we would have an additional 350 and that that would meet the need, but as you can see in the month of June our cases went up, and so we had to increase that by another 350 and a new contract for that tracing. We'll measure it in the future as to whether that needs to be increased again,” Hutchinson said.
The first $20 million, year-long contract with aerospace defense company General Dynamics will add 350 contact tracers to the state’s workforce. That, along with another contract yet to be signed, will bring the state’s number of contact tracers to about 1,000.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the additional contact tracers will help to curb the spread of the virus in central Arkansas, which has seen a steady increase in new cases in recent days.
“We have a high population... density here, and a lot of individuals at risk, especially those who are attending large gatherings and even small gatherings without face masks,” Smith said. “So we're going to need to have to not only watch that carefully, but take action so that we don't have something happen in central Arkansas like what we saw in northwest Arkansas.”
Monday’s increase of 439 new cases brought the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Arkansas to 6,127. Washington County added 77 new cases, with 46 from Pulaski County and 36 each from Yell and Benton counties. The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by 12 to a total of 337, with 81 people on a ventilator.
Hutchinson said it’s unclear how many more people will contract the virus as a result of gatherings over Independence Day weekend.
“There is a concern… as to what this is going to result in a week from now, and whether you're going to see an increase in cases as a result of that. So there was some behavior that was not good or helpful over the weekend, and whenever we can do something about that we will,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson mentioned state officials had ordered a Little Rock bar, Brewski’s Pub and Grub, to close after its failure to follow state public health guidelines resulted in a cluster of coronavirus infections. Smith also said, for the first time, the state has seen at least one person test positive for the coronavirus in each of Arkansas’s 75 counties.