Arkansas has seen a second day of over 200 new coronavirus cases as COVID-19 hospitalizations surpass the state’s previous peak in April.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday that 239 people tested positive for the virus, bringing the state’s total caseload to 6,777. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized rose to 113, while seven more Arkansans died from the disease for a total of 132.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said centers of coronavirus activity in the state have shifted away from prisons and nursing homes and more toward workplaces, in addition to new regions of the state driving the uptick in cases.
"We have really, in Arkansas, five different epidemics that are in five different stages. And so you have three of the regions in which we like the direction, they've moved downward, and the trend is well, and we have two regions which [are] the northwest region and the southwest region that we currently are fighting a challenge," Hutchinson said.
Northwest Arkansas again had the sharpest daily increase in new coronavirus cases, with 91 people in Washington and Benton counties testing positive. Friday’s uptick marks almost ten days of triple-digit increases in new infections, bringing the state’s number of active COVID-19 cases to 1,699.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said infections are growing in some parts of the state, while coronavirus activity has held steady in others.
"We’ve had some timing differences. We initially had really quite a few cases in the central part of the state, in the southeast part of the state," Smith said. "Those are coming down, but now we're seeing a real upsurge in the western part of the state, particularly the northwest."
Smith said Benton, Washington and Sevier counties saw the highest increases of new cases, accounting for over half of the state’s cases added Friday. He said Arkansans testing positive for the coronavirus are more likely to be young, Latino, and have no symptoms when they’re tested.
"So we're seeing younger individuals… as we’ve mentioned before, many more in the Latino community have tested positive than was previous. Of our active cases, 25% are Latino," Smith said.
Smith said infections in workplace environments are behind much of the resurgence in coronavirus activity, especially in the poultry industry where over 400 workers have tested positive.
Smith said the Health Department will host testing events on Saturday in Fayetteville, West Memphis, De Queen and on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Additional events will be held in Jonesboro, Wrightsville and El Dorado on June 6.
When asked whether the recent resurgence in coronavirus infections is as severe as the state’s first peak in late April, Gov. Hutchinson said it’s too early to tell.
"I think it depends on where this peak goes. I don’t know that you could say that it is worse than the first one, we’re learning as we go through this. And if you just simply look at the number of cases that we see at the peak, this one is as high as the first one," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said he will soon announce whether state employees will receive annual bonus payments, and that he does not expect further cuts to the state’s revised budget due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In response to the growing outbreak in northwest Arkansas, Hutchinson said he would hold Monday’s coronavirus briefing in Rogers and meet with local leaders in business, hospitals and minority communities.