Two additional deaths from COVID-19 were reported Saturday in Arkansas, bringing the total to 14. The number of people testing positive for the virus has reached 743, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, an increase of 39 from the previous day.
Meanwhile efforts to help businesses facing financial hardships are coming to fruition, he told reporters. State officials have approved 80 bridge loans through the Quick Action Loan Guaranty Program, with $1.7 million going out to help businesses facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson announced March 20 that $4 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund – created to provide cash incentives for businesses expanding or locating operations in Arkansas – would be set aside to support bridge loans to small businesses that need help making payroll and pay other essential costs. The loans can be up to $250,000. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released $3 million from a settlement fund to add to the $4 million.
The governor also said during the Saturday press conference that $10 million in grants have been made to rural hospitals that have been hard hit by the COVID-19 response. The funds often help the smaller hospitals make payroll, Gov. Hutchinson said.
Jobless claims are also up to around 66,000, Gov. Hutchinson said. Initial jobless claims in Arkansas for the week ending March 28 were 26,944, nearly triple the amount reported in the previous week.
Hutchinson also issued a new executive order that bans hotels and short-term rentals from allowing out-of-state travelers. The exceptions are for healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, the military and other critical personnel. He said the focus of the order is to prevent “recreational travelers” arriving in Arkansas from out-of-state hot spots.
Data from the Arkansas Department of Transportation show a 40% decline in travel in the state since the crisis began, the governor said.
Of the COVID-19 patients, 23 were on ventilators, down from 26 on Friday, 61 were nursing home residents, up from 56 on Friday, and 106 were healthcare workers, up from 96 on Friday.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said 1,040 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, and had a 3.4% positive rate.
The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 72 on Saturday, up from the 71 on Friday. As of Saturday at 1 p.m., there were 290,606 U.S. cases and 7,826 deaths. Globally, there were 1,170,159 cases and 62,376 deaths.
Smith also said the federal prison in Forrest City reported six positive cases – three inmates and three staff – and the state is working with federal officials to contain that outbreak.