Arkansas is nearing a second peak of the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients as 120 people have died from the disease.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday the state saw 97 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 6,277. There was one additional death.
Speaking in Jonesboro, Hutchinson said 108 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas with 22 on a ventilator. While Arkansas saw its highest number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in late April, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the state has almost reached that peak.
“Clearly we're seeing an increase in hospitalizations, and that's a good signal that we're seeing increased disease activity in our communities,” Smith said. “In general, I think we need to take that very seriously.”
Hutchinson said, while the growing number of hospitalizations is a concern, the state’s healthcare providers can accommodate higher patient counts.
“Hospitalizations has always been measured in terms of hospital capacity and whether we have enough hospital space in which to treat all COVID-19 patients,” Hutchinson said. “And we do have that capacity, we continue to watch it.”
Smith said clusters of coronavirus activity have been identified in parts of the state, including in the northeast Arkansas city of Paragould.
“I'm not concerned about a widespread, huge outbreak in Greene County, but it is a lesson though for all of our counties… even if you're in a county where there's been very few cases, that situation can change quickly,” Smith said.
Smith said the outbreak in Greene County is primarily related to a swim party, while other infections in mainly the northeast and northwest parts of the state are related to workplace outbreaks. Smith said 220 employees of the state’s poultry industry currently have COVID-19.
While some outbreaks have occurred in northeast Arkansas, Smith said the northwest part of the state is seeing the highest rate of new coronavirus infections. He said that’s particularly impacting members of the state’s Latino population, who represent only 10% of the state’s total coronavirus cases but 20% of the state’s active cases of COVID-19.
With mounting pressure to ease restrictions on absentee voting in Arkansas, Hutchinson said he would wait until late summer to make any decisions related to the November election.
“I've got probably until August, because August is the time that the county clerks have to start printing ballots and getting ready for the fall election. So we want to wait and see exactly where we are in June and July and make some decisions then as to what the November election might look like.”
The state had 1,733 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday including 68 nursing home residents and 466 prison inmates.