Coronavirus Cases At 118 In Arkansas; Peak Could Come In 6 To 8 Weeks

Mar 21, 2020

Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith briefs reporters on the latest increase in coronavirus cases alongside Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says as many as 1,000 Arkansans could be hospitalized due to COVID-19, with the state expected to reach its peak number of coronavirus cases within the next six to eight weeks.

"This number strains our hospitals, our medical system, and our economy and it endangers lives," Hutchinson said.

Speaking at the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock Saturday, Hutchinson said a total of 118 people have tested positive for the virus. The latest total is up from 96 cases announced by the governor Friday, which increased to 100 later that evening. Sebastian County, home to the state's second-largest city, Fort Smith, has also reported its first positive test result.

Like in many of Hutchinson's past briefings on the coronavirus outbreak in Arkansas, the governor stressed the need for the public's cooperation with guidelines on social distancing and proper hygiene.

"We're doing all that we can as a state to flatten the peak, to make sure that we don't get any worse than the projections. But we need your help to engage in these common sense, protective measures for your own benefit and for the benefit of those that depend on you, and the elderly," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said projections for the state are based on people complying with those guidelines, and that doing so would prevent more drastic measures like sheltering in place from being necessary in Arkansas.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said his institution will add a total of 240 coronavirus tests per day to the state’s total testing capacity by Monday, and 500 more sometime next week.

"These are all assays that will not require send-out to commercial laboratories, and we'll have a much more rapid turnaround time than is currently existing for commercial assays so we'll be able to do on the order of 750, 800 COVID-19 assays at UAMS for people across the state, with six to 10 hour turnaround time," Patterson said.

Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said 13 people who have tested positive for coronavirus have required hospitalization, seven have received treatment in an Intensive Care Unit, and four have required mechanical ventilation.

The first instance of the coronavirus spreading to nursing and long-term care facilities in the state was announced Friday in three nursing homes in Pine Bluff, Centerton and Little Rock. Smith says those facilities have had additional people test positive, but that the department is awaiting more test results before releasing figures.

Smith also said his department will issue directives to dentists and hospitals urging them to postpone elective procedures in an effort to conserve personal protective equipment like gloves and surgical masks. 

Hutchinson said his administration has not reached a decision on whether to delay state income tax filing, as was done on the federal level, citing Arkansas's constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. He said the state's general revenues will dip by $100 million or more in the months of April, May and June.

"That is of concern and something we're addressing, but there is an economic hit that everybody feels and it's just natural that they feel it individually, we're going to feel it as a state as well," Hutchinson said.

When asked, Hutchinson said he hasn't had time to listen to much of the messaging coming from the Trump Administration regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

"I really have been listening to my team right here, I can't comment on the message coming out because I quite frankly have been too busy [dealing] with the circumstances that we face here."