Nearly 600 Arkansans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began as more than 52,000 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state saw 626 new coronavirus cases Friday, bringing the state’s total to 52,392. Five more Arkansans died from COVID-19 for a death toll of 587.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said he has extended the state’s public health emergency for another 60 days.
"The pandemic has not abated, it has not gone away in Arkansas. We have over 500 deaths as a result of this pandemic, we have over 50,000 cumulative cases, we have over 6,000 active cases, and while we’re making progress we do remain in a state of emergency, public health-wise," Hutchinson said.
Seven fewer Arkansans were hospitalized with COVID-19 for a total of 466, while the number of patients on a ventilator increased by one to 113. As of Friday, Arkansas had 6,359 active COVID-19 cases including 62 nursing home residents and 778 inmates of correctional facilities.
Hutchinson said the state Health Department has released new guidelines for large outdoor and indoor venues for school-sponsored team sports as K-12 students prepare to return to school between Aug. 24 and 26.
"The facilities will be expected to not go over 66% of capacity, they will be expected to socially distance, that means six feet between individuals or family groups, and also to wear masks," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the state still plans for school sports teams to follow the normal schedule as dictated by the Arkansas Activities Association. He said the Health Department will also release guidelines for school band and other music activities.
Education Secretary Johnny Key said the state Department of Education delivered 15,000 face masks to the Little Rock School District earlier in the week, and that the district has since received about half of its order for roughly 3 million masks.
Hutchinson voiced displeasure over the continued shortage of testing supplies and delays in commercial lab testing for COVID-19.
"It is disappointing that we’re at this stage five months in… that we’re still struggling with sufficient testing. And we thought we had that fixed, but that was whenever demand was down," Hutchinson said. "It’s not my role and it’s not the right time to say what we haven't done or what we should have done better."
Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said students, teachers and staff who display COVID-19 symptoms should seek testing at the Health Department’s Local Health Units. He said the state is considering having up to 10 teams that can be deployed to schools to complete mass coronavirus testing in the event of an outbreak.