Health officials say Arkansas has seen the largest single-day increase in positive test results for the coronavirus since the first case was identified last week.
Speaking to reporters at the State Capitol Wednesday Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the total number of cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas has risen to 33.
“Of these, 11 are new as I indicated, and there are three new counties that include Washington County, Bradley County and Faulkner County. Most of these are travel related or part of the original exposure,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said nine total cases are related to travel; one to France, two to India and six to domestic travel to places like Las Vegas, Colorado and Springfield, Mo. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said the number of screenings for coronavirus is rising rapidly, putting a strain on the system.
“Sample kits for testing are in limited supply and that is going to be a problem for us, and certainly in the short term we’re working with the Department of Health to look at alternative means by which we can swab and collect samples from patients,” Patterson said. “But this is an issue that I know is affecting multiple hospitals across the State of Arkansas and we're looking to a solution for that as quickly as we can.”
Hutchinson says $12 million in Community Development Block Grants will be allocated to supply bridge loans to companies and nonprofits affected by the pandemic, with first priority going to hospitals and other essential entities. $4 million from the governor’s quick action closing fund will also go toward helping mid-sized companies cover payroll expenses.
Businesses can apply on the websites of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the United States Small Business Administration.
Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie said a state-mandated work requirement for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, would be lifted for April and May. According to the governor, 803 of the state’s childcare facilities have closed amid coronavirus concerns, leaving roughly 1,200 still operational. Gillespie said the department would ease certain restrictions around childcare facilities in an effort to keep them open.
“We're going to raise the occupational capacity to allow them to be four above occupational capacity in case they are able to bring in others. We're going to also waive some requirements around education in this temporary period for those who work there so that they can so that they can bring in additional workers,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie also said children aged 5 to 12 would be allowed to receive childcare together instead of separately, and that expedited same-day background checks would be available for facilities hiring additional workers. Parents who receive vouchers for childcare will also not have to renew them for the next 30 days.
While the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Arkansas, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said numerous people who have tested positive for coronavirus are still in self-quarantine, but have recovered from their symptoms.
Patterson said the most critically ill patient in the state has “turned the corner” and is continuing to improve.