Nearly 1,500 Arkansans have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past three days, bringing the state’s total number of cases over 16,000.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Monday the state saw an additional 522 cases for a total of 16,083, as well as two more COVID-19 deaths for a death toll of 227. Speaking in his daily briefing, Hutchinson said the state continues to take seriously the threat the virus poses.
“We here in this room take COVID-19 very seriously, and the spread of this virus, the number of cases that we have. That's why we've expanded testing and continue to do that in Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "That's why we're building the infrastructure for contact tracing. That's why we had the guidance that was offered for wearing of [masks].”
Monday’s increase also brought the state’s number of active COVID-19 cases over 5,000 for the first time at 5,063. Washington and Benton counties had a combined increase of just over 200 new cases, while an outbreak at the Ouachita Unit state prison in Malvern contributed to an increase of 85 new cases in Hot Spring County.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the state is prepared to increase hospital capacity if needed because of an influx of COVID-19 patients.
“The hardest thing to address if you don't have it is ventilators, and so it's encouraging that we do have almost two-thirds of our ventilator capacity available, and then we have additional ventilators that have been on order,” Smith said. “We still have some crisis standards of care that we could convert to, for example anesthesia machines and things like that, things that we had addressed earlier on.”
Arkansas currently has 237 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 61 on a ventilator. According to the Department of Health, just over a quarter of the state’s total hospital beds are currently available, as are roughly 22% of the state’s total ICU beds.
Arkansas has also surpassed Hutchinson’s goal of testing 120,000 residents for the month of June with 120,053 tests completed since the beginning of the month.
When asked, Hutchinson said China’s decision to block imports from a Springdale Tyson Foods plant because of workers testing positive for the virus was “troubling.”
“You look at processing plants all across the country, and they've had outbreaks in different processing plants and for China to make that decision on one plant in Springdale is not reasonable in my judgment," Hutchinson said. "It's also not a health risk. There’s absolutely no health risk in the product that comes out of there."
Hutchinson also disputed remarks made by President Trump that suggested he instructed officials to slow coronavirus testing. Hutchinson said the president was joking and that Arkansas had not be asked by the administration to slow testing.