Nearly 100 inmates and staffers at prisons in Arkansas have tested positive for the coronavirus as the state again sets a record for the largest single-day increase in new cases.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that 1,410 people have tested positive for the virus in the state, while 30 people have died from COVID-19. That’s an increase of 130 new cases from Sunday, and seven more deaths since last Friday.
The state Department of Corrections previously announced an inmate from the Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas had tested positive for the virus Saturday. Speaking to reporters at the state Capitol Monday, Hutchinson said 43 of the 46 inmates housed in the same barracks as that inmate have also tested positive.
Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said one inmate from the Cummins Unit has been hospitalized with COVID-19. Hutchinson said the number of cases at the Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City in eastern Arkansas had grown as well, with 55 inmates and workers testing positive.
Corrections Department Secretary Wendy Kelley previously said an outbreak of the coronavirus within the state prison system would be “disastrous.” Smith said the rapid spread of the virus in prisons is not representative of the outbreak in Arkansas as a whole.
“These are high-risk settings where COVID-19 can spread very easily, very rapidly. But they’re also closed systems and they don’t necessarily represent the situation in Arkansas in general,” Smith said.
27 staffers and five inmates of Arkansas Community Corrections have tested positive for the virus, Smith said, as have 24 staffers and residents of a drug rehabilitation facility in central Arkansas.
According to Smith, 989 of the state’s 1,410 total cases are considered active, while 74 people are hospitalized and 28 are on a ventilator. He said the number of healthcare workers testing positive for the coronavirus has risen to 193, while 58 have recovered.
Hutchinson said that while the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations appears to be slowing in Arkansas, there’s still no indication that the state has reached the highest rate of new infections.
“We’re hoping that the peak comes sooner versus later, but I’ll remind you that… as you flatten the number of cases that you have and reduce the increase, then you’re going to extend the peak time period,” Hutchinson said.
The governor said projections from the University of Washington show Arkansas could reach the peak rate of coronavirus infections by April 29.
While the state remains focused on containing the spread of the virus, Hutchinson announced he is appointing a medical advisory board to focus on mitigation efforts after the state has reached its peak rate of new coronavirus cases.
“I’ve asked Dr. Nate Smith to chair this, but we’ll be releasing the names of seven highly-skilled epidemiologists and others… that will help give us guidance as to, ‘what does it look like on the down side of the slope? What do we need to do to avoid peaks in the future? What do we need to do to not see a resurgence of this?’”