Arkansas has seen its largest single-day increase in deaths due to COVID-19 while nearly 900 more Arkansans have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state saw 887 new cases Friday, the fourth-highest daily increase in new cases since the pandemic began. The state’s death toll increased by 22 for a total of 663.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said both sharp increases come after days of lower daily upticks in new cases and deaths.
“We've had a number of clusters from group gatherings. They're not associated with schools, they're associated with other activities that go on in the routine of life,” Hutchinson said. “But that is not smart, it is not good and that leads to cases and that leads to deaths. And so we have to be mindful of this, we're not back to normal.”
COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing a second peak after reaching the highest total of 526 on Aug. 4. 10 additional Arkansans hospitalized were announced Friday for a total of 509, with 120 patients on a ventilator.
With the record uptick in coronavirus deaths, Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero stressed the need for restrictions on visitation at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
“While those restrictions seem harsh, they are there for a reason. 30% to 40% of all Americans that have died have died because they are in nursing homes or in congregate facilities, so we need to protect this population,” Romero said.
Romero said 11 of the 22 deaths reported Friday were among nursing home residents, including seven in Little River County in southwest Arkansas. He said four of the 22 deaths actually occurred in July, while 18 happened in the past 24 hours.
Hutchinson also said the state has completed testing of every inmate and staff member of the state’s prison system.
“The result is that we've tested 14,650 inmates and of those 14,650 inmates we’ve had 5,120 test positive. That is roughly a 35% positivity rate of our inmate population,” Hutchinson said. “Over the last two weeks as we finished this mass testing effort, the positivity rate has been reduced to 4%.”
A report by the Marshall Project released in July found Arkansas’s prison system had the highest per capita rate of coronavirus infection in the country, and the fifth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths among prison systems in the U.S.
Hutchinson said the state does not currently plan to conduct mass testing in prisons going forward unless new positive cases are identified in symptomatic inmates or staff members.
Pulaski County saw the highest increase in new cases Friday with 80 residents testing positive. Washington County added 57 new cases, while Benton County reported 47. 12 other counties reported 20 or more new cases Friday.
As of Friday a total of 55,652 Arkansans have tested positive for the coronavirus, while 5,854 are considered active cases.