Arkansas Governor Prepares For 3,500 Cases of COVID-19 In Coming Weeks

Mar 27, 2020

Gov. Asa Hutchinson listens as Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith speaks to reporters Friday about the latest cases of COVID-19 in the state.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas was up to 384 positive cases of coronavirus as of 5 p.m. Friday, according to the state Department of Health. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during an afternoon press briefing that projections suggest that number could increase to 2,000 cases by next weekend and 3,500 in two weeks.

"This is modeling that’s based upon what’s happened in other states, what the experts tell us. It doesn’t mean it has to happen in Arkansas, but those are the kinds of projections that we’re trying to anticipate," Hutchinson said.

To prepare for that possibility, the governor said he is asking the Arkansas National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand the capacity of hospital beds in the state. That would likely involve facilities like a closed hospital in Jacksonville and hotels, but a remote possibility, Hutchinson said, could involve housing patients at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

"That is what is needed to plan for the future. We want to get ahead of the curve and make sure that we don’t have to make difficult choices down the road," he said.

Hutchinson reminded people to exercise social distancing by maintaining six feet between one another and not having indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. A directive issued Thursday will allow police to enforce that.

Col. Bill Bryant, director of Arkansas State Police, said local, county and state agencies will work to dissuade people from getting together, but will make arrests if needed.

"Law enforcement as a whole, we’re going to do a reasonable approach to people who have violated this directive, try to seek voluntary compliance and hopefully we won’t have to use the enforcement component. If deemed necessary, we will," Bryant said. "That’s our job, to make sure that every Arkansan is safe from this virus."

Officials said there have been no additional deaths in the state since the third fatality was announced Thursday. 23 people have recovered from their illness, according to the Department of Health website. Nationwide, the number of positive cases surpassed 100,000 Friday afternoon, with 1,544 deaths.