Gov. Asa Hutchinson says Arkansas does not need additional federal funding to lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the state’s economy.
This comes as the number of coronavirus cases rose by 72 Wednesday for a total of 4,236, while two more COVID-19 deaths brought the state’s total to 97.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the outbreak, Hutchinson said the $1.25 billion the state has received from the federal CARES Act is enough to bridge an expected loss in state revenue of over $200 million.
“When it comes to another round of CARES Act funding or federal funding," Hutchinson said, "we have to be very careful because this is increasing our national debt. In Arkansas, we don't need federal money to help us with our state shortfall on the budget."
The governor's comments came as Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives announced plans to vote on a $3 trillion dollar coronavirus relief package later this week. Of the state’s total coronavirus cases, 862 are considered active with 64 people in Arkansas hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said St. Francis County in east Arkansas currently has the largest number of active cases after a sharp increase in cases on Tuesday. Pulaski County in central Arkansas has the second highest active caseload, while both are the only counties in the state to have 100 or more active cases.
Coronavirus infections have also increased at prisons, including at the Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City where 335 inmates have tested positive. A total of 50 inmates and staff at the Randall L. Williams Unit state prison in Pine Bluff have also contracted COVID-19.
Smith said that with cases and deaths from COVID-19 continuing to increase in Arkansas, more widespread testing is needed.
“The majority of our counties do not have any active cases that we've identified. That doesn't mean that they necessarily have no one who's infected,” Smith said. “I'm concerned about the ones who have tested positive, but I'm also concerned about the folks out there who are infected that we have not yet diagnosed.”
LaShannon Spencer, CEO of the Community Health Centers of Arkansas, announced the organization has committed to collecting over 2,000 testing samples to work toward the governor’s goal of testing 2% of the state’s population by the end of the month.
Despite only making up about 16% of the state’s total coronavirus infections, Arkansans 65 years of age and older account for almost 72% of the state’s deaths. Arkansans between the ages of 25 and 44 represent the largest share of the state’s total coronavirus caseload at 38.7%, according to the Department of Health.
When asked, Hutchinson said he would be in favor of expanding no-fault absentee voting in Arkansas for the November general election, though it remains unclear whether there will be a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the fall.
“In November, I don't know whether we're going to be in an emergency. I hope that schools will be functioning, I believe that the colleges will be functioning, the businesses will be functioning, and so we don't know that there will be any impediment for the election itself,” Hutchinson said.
Despite that, the governor urged Arkansans not to expect a return to pre-pandemic daily life in the near future.
“We have to learn to live and manage and to work through the potential of COVID-19 in the next year, until we get a vaccine.”