Arkansas Nears 2,000 Coronavirus Cases As Prison Infections Continue To Rise

Apr 20, 2020

A graph displays the number of new COVID-19 cases in Arkansas, including cases identified among inmates at correctional facilities.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Inmates at a state prison account for roughly one-third of all Arkansas coronavirus cases as the state’s death toll from COVID-19 rises to 42.

In his daily briefing on the pandemic Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state has seen a total of 1,923 positive coronavirus test results, an increase of 142 from Sunday. Two additional patients died from the virus, while 93 were hospitalized and 24 were on a ventilator.

Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said, of the 142 additional cases, 117 were inmates at the Cummins Unit near Pine Bluff; however, he said about 250 additional positive results from the prison were not included in the state’s tally of cases. According to Smith, approximately 600 inmates at the prison have tested positive for the virus.

“The prison system… ironically, it’s the toughest place to control an outbreak, but also the easiest once you know who’s positive, who’s negative, who’s exposed, who’s not exposed, because you can actually direct the movements and limit the movements of individuals in that setting fairly easily,” Smith said.

Smith said roughly 1,000 inmates at the Cummins Unit have been tested for the coronavirus, and though three have been hospitalized with COVID-19, he said he doesn’t anticipate a sudden surge in hospitalizations stemming from the outbreak.

“Most of those who have been tested are asymptomatic. Some of those, of course, will go on to develop symptoms. They tend to be a younger population than many of those who are hospitalized,” Smith said. “We’ll see how many end up requiring hospitalization, but it probably will be a much lower percentage than from our numbers in the community where typically we’re only testing those who are symptomatic.”

The increase comes a day after Hutchinson said he would direct the state Parole Board to consider an expedited release for nearly 2,000 state prison inmates. While about 1,000 coronavirus tests are processed in Arkansas each day, Hutchinson said he would meet Tuesday with representatives from hospitals and private laboratories about broadening the state’s testing efforts.

An image provided by the White House compares states based on the number of coronavirus tests done each month per 1,000 residents.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

“We want to be able to expand that testing that we do in Arkansas to more broad surveillance testing, where we have a better sampling across the state as to who has had COVID-19, or more broadly, they might have had it not being symptomatic,” Hutchinson said. “We want to have that kind of information, particularly when you look into the fall and long term. We want to have that testing capability.”

Hutchinson also said his Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force would meet Tuesday to discuss recommendations on how to ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state’s economy.

Health Secretary Smith said, of the 1,923 total confirmed cases of the virus, 1,133 are considered active including 244 healthcare workers. As of Monday, Smith said 93 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas, with 24 on a ventilator.

With April being National Child Abuse Awareness Month, First Lady of Arkansas Susan Hutchinson made an appeal to parents and caregivers to report suspected incidences of abuse. Mischa Martin, director of the Division of Children and Family Services of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said calls to the state’s child abuse hotline are on the rise as schools have suspended in-person classes.

“Since the pandemic started, we’ve received 3,148 calls to the hotline. That’s an almost 50% increase in calls since the same time period last year, so we need you to report the neglect or abuse if you suspect it,” Martin said.

The state’s hotline to report suspected child abuse can be reached at 1-844-SAVE-A-CHILD.