Arkansas’ governor is extending the state’s public health emergency for an additional 45 days as the state continues to see more cases of the coronavirus.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, the state saw 322 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 13,928. 11 more people have died from the coronavirus as well. The state’s death count is now at 208.
Of those total cases, 4,344 are considered active. The northwest counties of Washington and Benton continue to lead the state in new COVID-19 cases, with 46 and 33 respectively. Pulaski County had the third highest number with 23.
The number of those hospitalized increased by nine for a total of 226. Of those 11 deaths, 10 of them were people 65 or older.
Speaking during his daily briefing on the coronavirus, which took place at the United States Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said these new deaths should serve as a reminder to young people how dangerous COVID-19 can be for older residents.
"While you might survive this very well and not have any repercussions, but who are you communicating with and who you might expose and the vulnerability of those over 65 we have to keep in mind," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also spoke on the daily number of new cases in each public health region in the state, which are beginning to slow down in every sector, according to numbers from the Department of Health.
"Right now in every public health region, the latest end of the graph is going down. Every region the trend line is going down right now. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the same tomorrow and the next day, but that’s encouraging news for us. Hopefully people are paying attention to our guidelines," Hutchinson said.
The emergency order, initially set to expire Friday, will now go into the beginning of August. Hutchinson called the extension “absolutely necessary” to keep the state’s current telehealth rules in place along with keeping the immunity policies for businesses and healthcare workers the governor signed on Monday.
Hutchinson also referenced a paragraph of the order that says the state has final say on the restrictions cities and counties can place in response to the pandemic.
"The Secretary of Health, in consultation with the governor shall have sole authority over all instances of quarantine, isolation and restrictions on commerce and travel throughout the state. Cities and counties shall not impose any restrictions of commerce or travel upon citizens that is more restrictive than a directive or guideline issued by the Secretary of Health, in consultation with the governor," Hutchinson said.
These comments come one day after Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced he was directing the city’s Board of Directors to draft an ordinance that would require the wearing of facemasks in public places, and two days after the city of Fayetteville passed a similar ordinance.
When asked whether the state would challenge those directives, Hutchinson said there are no plans to do so, but did say any city rule concerning COVID-19 that is more restrictive than the state's rule would be preempted by the state.
"The mayors are simply sending out a signal that this is important, but their guidance should not be more restrictive than the executive order," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also announced he was lifting the 30-day state of emergency that was declared due to the protests against police brutality that happened statewide as a reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.