More than 500 Arkansans have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began as the state records its fourth-highest daily increase in new coronavirus cases.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an additional 912 cases Wednesday. It brings the state’s total to 46,293, while an additional 18 deaths brings the death toll to 508.
Speaking in his daily briefing, Hutchinson said he’s authorized additional National Guard personnel to assist with coronavirus testing at the state’s correctional facilities.
"All the inmates in 10 of the facilities have been tested including the Delta [Regional] Unit, and that's one of the reasons that we discovered additional positive cases there," Hutchinson said. "So we have nine more to do. Our goal is to have 100% of our inmates tested by the end of this month."
Chicot County saw the highest increase in cases Wednesday with 149 residents testing positive, largely due to an outbreak at the Delta Regional Unit state prison in Dermott. Pulaski County added 79 new cases, with 51 cases from Sebastian County and 42 from Washington County.
With the state still committed to opening schools for in-class instruction in just over two weeks, Education Secretary Johnny Key said superintendents of individual school districts do not have the power to order school closures as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.
"We have set up a system of response levels, and those response levels do give flexibility to the local superintendents to make certain decisions, but those response levels have to be discussed in conjunction with the Health Department and with the Department of Education," Key said. "The superintendents are certainly in a position to give us the best estimate of the situation and how it's impacting their district."
Schools in Arkansas are set to reopen for in-class instruction between Aug. 24 and 26. Key also announced a new resource for parents and teachers with concerns related to COVID-19.
"Obviously many of those questions will be dependent upon the work that’s happening in their local school districts, but we will work to make sure that we get those answers to them. This call center will be open currently from 8 to 4 Monday through Friday. The number is 833-353-6050," Key said.
The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased by 10 on Wednesday to 516, while the state has a total of 6,937 active cases. Hutchinson also announced that Dr. Jose Romero, who currently serves as acting Health Secretary, will be appointed to serve in that role permanently.