The coronavirus is continuing to spread rapidly in Arkansas, with Gov. Asa Hutchinson announcing 2,789 new cases had been reported Thursday, making it the largest one day increase since the pandemic began. He also said there had been additional 33 deaths, for a total of 2,555.
Hospitalizations – which had been reaching new highs each day this week – declined by 31 to 1,072. But the number of people needing treatment is expected to surge in the coming weeks, which will put a strain on facilities statewide unlike anything Arkansas has experienced before, Hutchinson said.
To increase hospital capacity, the governor is asking that 10 beds at the McClellan Veterans Hospital in Little Rock be designated for COVID-19 patients. Approval is expected within the next 24 hours from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would cover 75% of the estimated $1.9 million cost, and the state responsible for the rest.
Despite a rapidly worsening situation, Hutchinson told reporters he does not see the need for further restrictions on businesses, suggesting private gatherings are where most transmission of the virus is occurring.
“Would anybody at this table advocate to close down a restaurant if cases are not coming from that restaurant, or they’re not coming from a particular activity or a gym, and they’re in full compliance with all of our public health guidelines? And I asked that question of our health department officials and the vast majority of cases are coming from social gatherings,” Hutchinson said.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Cam Patterson is among officials expressing alarm that hospitals in the state may soon exhaust their ability to care for those suffering not only from COVID-19, but ailments like diabetes and heart disease.
“Although the health care system in the state of Arkansas is stressed right now, it is holding up, and additional surge capacity exists. But that capacity is not infinite,” Patterson said on Twitter. “Every day we become more and more concerned about our ability to manage what lies ahead.”
Meanwhile the state is preparing to adjust to new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent reducing how long people need to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. The recommended time had been 14 days, but now asymptomatic people can end quarantine after 10 days without being tested, or seven days if they test negative.
During Thursday’s press conference, Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero implored Arkansans to take basic precautions like wearing masks in public spaces, socially distancing themselves and the frequent washing of hands.
“This will spread if we do not attempt to bring it under control. There is still time to slow the spread, but we must do our share,” Romero said. “This is a public responsibility. This is not a responsibility of a single person or a single organization. Without your help, this can’t be brought under control.”