The upward trend of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas’s Latino population continues as more than 40% of the state’s daily increase in new cases came from the state’s Latino communities.
Arkansas saw a rise of 261 new cases Thursday bringing the state’s total number of coronavirus cases to 6,538, according to the state Department of Health. Of those new cases, 110 were in Arkansas’s most northwest counties, with Benton County reporting 85 new positive test results and Washington County reporting 25.
Five more deaths were also recorded, bring the state’s death toll from COVID-19 to 125.
Speaking during his daily briefing, Gov. Asa Hutchinson called Thursday a "challenging day," and said while the state wants to investigate further, the increase in cases in the Latino population indicates a need for greater testing and greater outreach concerning the coronavirus.
"We want to really have an increased effort in outreach with our Hispanic community and other minority communities to make sure they’re aware of the risks and the actions they should take to protect themselves and to protect their families," Hutchinson said.
Thursday also marked the largest number of cases from people not in nursing homes nor in correctional facilities, with all 261 cases coming from what the department calls "community spread."
According to the Arkansas Department of Health 1,830 cases are considered active, with 71 in nursing homes and 374 in correctional facilities. Hospitalizations decreased by 4 to 104 and patients on a ventilator increased by 5 for a total of 27.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the number of cases where patients were asymptomatic at the time of testing has also increased, with half of the state’s total cases coming from patients who did not report symptoms when tested.
"In our local health units, we’ve been testing and not requiring people to have symptoms and of those who have tested positive at our local health units in the last two weeks, last week and a half really, 74% have reported no symptoms at the time they were tested," Smith said.
Smith also said the cases are trending younger.
"The average age for the new cases in Benton County was 40 years old, with three as the youngest and 72 as the oldest. In Washington County, it’s similar. Average age 38, with the youngest three years old, the oldest 78 years old," Smith said.
Also during the briefing, the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task force presented its preliminary report of recommendations. The report, which will be published online in its entirety Friday, listed five areas of focus for economic recovery: testing and tracing, liability policies, childcare, workforce training and broadband access.
Steuart Walton, the chairman of the task force, said, out of all of the recommendations, he has heard the greatest demand for liability protections.
"There just such a level of anxiety among business owners, managers, religious leaders, educational leaders around ‘What kind of liability would I be exposed to if I did reopen and somebody did get sick,’ that it’s just been a resounding theme in our meetings,” Walton said, “And we’re just trying to encourage people to address it, talk about it and it’s not about picking a partisan side. It about trying to find a way for the state’s economy to recover."
The report lists three options to address liability concerns: an executive order by Hutchinson, legislation addressing protection in a special session, or legislation introduced during the 2021 general session.
Hutchinson said, while the report shows the high level of need for liability protections, he will need hear more from the General Assembly on how those protections would be implemented and what the next steps should be.