The number of active cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continues to reach record highs in Arkansas, as the number of total cases surpasses 18,000.
According to the Arkansas Health Department, the state saw 687 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 18,062. Of those total cases, 5,695 are considered active. That’s the fourth highest number of daily cases the state has recorded. 96 of the new cases were from Washington County, while 45 were from Benton County and 44 from Pulaski County.
The number of hospitalizations has also reached a new high, with 284 total, an increase of 17. Those on a ventilator increased by 8 for a total of 66. 242 Arkansans have now died from COVID-19, two more than reported on Wednesday.
Though both Benton and Washington counties reported new cases, numbers from the state show the rolling averages of COVID-19 cases dropping for both counties.
Speaking during the governor's daily briefing on the coronavirus on Thursday, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith called that drop good news.
"That gives us hope that even in a situation like that where you have quite a bit of transmission going on in the community, really driving the state’s increase, with concentrated, focused effort, we are able to flatten that out," Smith said.
As the coronavirus has already complicated elections across the country, Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently announced he would make a decision regarding mail-in voting for the upcoming November election by August 1. When asked whether or not that’s enough time to make the changes, Hutchinson said he has not heard from certain officials on the matter.
"I’m waiting to hear from the state board election commissioners. I’m waiting to hear from some of the county clerks as to what their timeframe is and what action they would suggest would be helpful to protect people in the November election. So I look forward to hearing from them," Hutchinson said.
During the briefing reporters asked multiple questions on facemasks, including whether the state should require the wearing of them when out in public. Hutchinson said the current regulations, such as requiring facemasks in restaurants for employees and for customers until their food is served, are already a challenge.
"I’m getting calls all the time saying 'Well so and so’s not doing it. Or the staff’s not complying in this restaurant,' and we’re taking enforcement actions, but I just don’t think that’s what we want right now," Hutchinson said.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in settings where proper social distancing measures are difficult to follow. People older than two and in such settings are encouraged to wear them, unless they have a condition that makes breathing difficult.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announced last week a direction to the city’s Board of Directors to draft an ordinance that requires the wearing of facemasks in public. Hutchinson said while he does not know what the Little Rock ordinance will require, he said it is possible for cities to be helpful without violating the statewide order