Arkansas Declares Emergency Over Hurricane Laura, State Sees Second-Highest New COVID-19 Deaths

Aug 26, 2020

This graph shows the seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases in Arkansas.
Credit Governor's Office

Arkansas’s governor has declared a state of emergency concerning Hurricane Laura as the state announced its second highest number of new deaths from the coronavirus.

According to numbers from the Arkansas Department of Health, the state added 649 new cases, bringing the cumulative number to 58,023. The number of active cases is currently 5,390. Over the past 24 hours, the state recorded 4,378 tests.

The rate of hospitalizations decreased by seven for a total of 435. However, the state added 21 new deaths due to COVID-19. The death toll is now 732. According to the state, there are currently zero cases in both the Cummins Unit and the Ouachita River unit, both prisons with a previously large number of cases.   

Speaking during a briefing on both the pandemic and the impending weather, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state of emergency concerning Hurricane Laura will allocate $250,000 from emergency funding for preparation of flooding and other damage.

"Whenever you look at what we are to expect in south Arkansas particularly, you can be prepared to see flash flooding, sustained winds from 40 to 45 miles per hour. This means trees down. That means a potential for power outages," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said the state will have its search and rescue teams on standby. A.J. Gary, director of the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management, said the hurricane will impact Arkansas.

"The state emergency operations center has been activated due to COVID-19, but we are increasing the number of personnel there so we can better respond [to], quickly respond to the needs across the state," Gary said. 

Hutchinson said he has already been in contact with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and offered assistance if Louisiana requests it. The epicenter of Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 hurricane, is expected to reach Arkansas beginning Thursday, with the southwest part of the state experiencing the most severe weather.

On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved of Arkansas’s application to receive enhanced unemployment compensation through a "Lost Wages Grant," which the state applied for one week ago. The funding will allow the state to pay $300 a week to Arkansans who are unemployed due to the pandemic and qualify for the program.

Speaking about the FEMA program, Hutchinson said the state legislature has approved of the funding, which needed to happen for the program to move forward.

"The only thing that remains is getting the system changed so that those checks can go out… that increased level of compensation. That, once again, is going to take some time to do that," Hutchinson said.

According to Hutchinson, Arkansans who qualify for the program should not expect to see the funds for at least two weeks.

"We have a very old, antiquated unemployment IT system that’s going to take some manual changes in order to get that done and we’re still waiting for additional guidance from the federal government," Hutchinson said.

The amount that will be paid to Arkansans is half of what was previously provided by the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program before funding ran out in July.