In just two days, Arkansas has seen its first and second-highest daily increases in the number of new coronavirus cases among non-incarcerated people as nearly 400 people in the state have died and nearly 500 are hospitalized with COVID-19.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday the state saw 990 new coronavirus cases, one day after the state saw an increase of 1,013 new cases. Friday’s increase brought the state’s total number of cases to 37,249, while an additional eight deaths due to COVID-19 brought the death toll to 394.
In his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said coronavirus infections continue to be spread across a wide swath of the state.
“When you have 55 cases in Newton County, one of the most rural parts of Arkansas, everybody has to be mindful there's not any area of the state that’s exempt,” Hutchinson said. “So in some ways it's a little bit of good news that there’s not any true, fully-blown contagion or hot spot in one particular area, it is just the risk is broad-based across the state, and because we're testing a lot, we're catching it.”
Pulaski County again saw the highest increase with 144 residents testing positive, while Washington County added 82 new cases. 55 residents of both Benton and Newton counties each tested positive. Arkansas had 7,028 active COVID-19 cases as of Friday, while an increase of 17 Arkansans hospitalized brought the state’s total to 497.
Acting Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said the state will hopefully begin to see infections trending downward as a result of the governor’s statewide mask mandate.
“This is what's going to make the difference, and social distancing. We can drive this down, we can see possibly results as early as two weeks from now,” Romero said. “So I encourage all of our citizens to engage in using their masks and engage in social distancing. And as the governor said, the weekend is here, but it's not the old weekend. We need to keep these things in mind.”
Gov. Hutchinson’s statewide requirement for Arkansans to wear face masks in public, with some exceptions, went into effect Monday.
Hutchinson said he doesn’t anticipate further delaying the school start date despite comments from President Trump indicating support for such an action in areas with high coronavirus activity.
“We're going to have incidences of a positive case in a school environment… parents in most school districts have a choice. In some school districts they've given an option of going virtual through the school year or having online instruction, and so I do believe that parents have to make the right decision for their family,” Hutchinson said.
K-12 students in Arkansas are currently set to return to school between Aug. 24 and 26. Hutchinson also underscored the need for $7 million in coronavirus relief funding for the state’s Latinx and Marshallese communities; a request a panel of state lawmakers declined to consider Friday.
“I said very clearly, we need this. It's a recommendation of the CDC. This is not to build a building, this is to save lives. So help us out, the money is there, it's federal money that's been allocated for this. Let's simply get the paperwork done so we can proceed with this,” Hutchinson said.
The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday declined to consider the state Health Department’s request for permission to spend the additional funds to go toward enhancing testing and contact tracing in those minority communities.
Representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Arkansas Complete Count Committee, and the Census outreach group Arkansas Counts all spoke during Friday’s briefing on the importance of completing the 2020 Census. With roughly 90 days until the completion deadline, Arkansas ranks 41st in the nation for Census response rate, at 56.8% compared to the national average of 62.2%.
Arkansans are encouraged to complete the 2020 Census by filling out the form mailed to their residence, calling 844-330-2020, or visiting My2020Census.gov.