Arkansas now has its first presumptive case of the coronavirus. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the head of the state Department of Health announced Wednesday the person is from the Pine Bluff area and is in isolation at a hospital. They said the case is likely not part of a widespread outbreak
In response to the positive test, Hutchinson signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency, but also urged the public to remain calm. The declaration will facilitate coordination and support to the state agencies involved.
"At the current time there’s not a need to do all our work remotely. There’s not a need to disrupt our state services," Hutchinson said. "Our business will continue as usual, but we are prepared in the event that there is a necessity of it to go into more remote operations to continue state services."
Hutchinson is asking anyone planning to travel outside of Arkansas to reconsider, especially if it includes other states where cases have been reported. He also said people who are feeling sick or are showing symptoms of COVID-19 should stay at home.
Dr. Nathaniel Smith, secretary of the Department of Health, sought to reassure the public, saying there is no indication that it has spread beyond the one patient.
"Based on the information that we have at this time, this infection was likely acquired through travel to another state," Smith said. "We don’t have evidence of a spread within the Pine Bluff community or elsewhere in the state."
Few other details about the patient were immediately released. Preliminary testing by the department is being shared with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will conduct a second test to confirm or reject the state’s results.
Arkansas Medical Director for Immunizations and Outbreak Response Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said later in the day that the department is working to identify people who have interacted with the patient and identify their risk of contracting the virus.
"It could be high, medium or low, and the actions that we would recommend for them would be different based on their level of risk," Dillaha said. "Then we are working to identify any close contacts of this patient and where they have been in the community, travel or healthcare they might have received in the past weeks."
Southeast Arkansas College in Pine Bluff closed its campus Wednesday after three students were identified as having been exposed to the patient at Jefferson Regional Medical Center.
Arkansas officials have been preparing for the likelihood of a coronavirus outbreak in the state. Nationwide, more than a thousand people have been infected so far, with at least 30 deaths. The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
The CDC has awarded the state over $6.2 million to aid in its response to the coronavirus.