As the nation and the world marks one year since the COVID-19 pandemic officially began, Arkansans are remembering the nearly 5,400 residents who have died from the disease since the state saw its first coronavirus case one year ago Thursday.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined staff at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, where the state’s first coronavirus patient was hospitalized.
“We’ve seen the resilience of Arkansans, we’ve seen the magnitude of the capability of our pharmaceutical industry in being able to produce a vaccine that can… immunize people from this deadly disease,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson thanked the staff of the medical center and paid tribute to the hospital’s 135 patients who died from COVID-19. Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington joined in the remembrance, expressing thanks to the state’s healthcare workers through an official proclamation.
“The pandemic has forever changed our lives, but we will endure. We will endure this crisis together as communities united as we persist through this new normal and hope for better days,” Washington said.
Jefferson Regional President and CEO Brian Thomas said the hospital has treated over 900 COVID inpatients and 1,928 outpatients, while 282 employees and physicians have contracted COVID-19.
Pine Bluff resident James Black, the first person in the state to test positive for the coronavirus, told reporters he’s grateful for his recovery and urged fellow Arkansans not to ease up on following public health guidelines.
“I still have little problems, still get tired kind of fast. I have problems with breathing sometimes,” Black said. “I want the state to know everybody needs to take this serious… wash your hands, keep your social distance, don’t get too comfortable because it can happen to anybody.”
Black spent 49 days in the hospital after his COVID diagnosis, and says he still has some lingering after-effects from the virus. Over 325,000 Arkansans have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, while under 300 residents are hospitalized as of Thursday.