Five More COVID-19 Deaths In Arkansas As Cases Surpass 5,000

May 20, 2020

Dr. Naveen Patil, Medical Director for Infectious Disease at the Arkansas Department of Health, speaks with reporters at the department's headquarters in Little Rock.
Credit Arkansas Department of Health / Facebook

Five more Arkansans have died from the disease caused by the coronavirus as the state’s total number of cases reaches 5,003.

Officials with the Arkansas Department of Health on Wednesday said four nursing home residents were among the state’s latest COVID-19 deaths, while 1,044 cases remain active.

Speaking during a press briefing at the Health Department, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said Wednesday’s increase of 80 new cases was dispersed fairly evenly across the state.

"Pulaski County had 10 cases, Crittenden County had nine, we had seven in Yell County and seven in Benton County, and we had six in Craighead [County], and all the other counties were five or fewer," Smith said.

Smith said 79 of the state’s new cases were from the general public, while one was from a correctional facility. Prison inmates make up 315 of the state’s active COVID-19 cases, with 85 from nursing homes and 644 from the community.

The Cummins Unit state prison near Pine Bluff remains hardest-hit by the pandemic, with 951 inmates and 65 staff having tested positive. The Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City saw 24 more inmates test positive, bringing the total number of infections to 609 inmates and 17 staff.

Dr. Naveen Patil, Medical Director for Infectious Disease at the state Health Department, said public health officials continue their outreach to larger businesses, like factories and food processing plants, that have seen employees test positive for the coronavirus.

"In the past 10 weeks, our team has visited about 50 facilities that have been affected by COVID, and helped them guide in infection control and prevention," Patil said. "In the coming months to years, we plan to visit all these facilities if possible. If not the other option we have is to provide tele-infection control efforts to all these facilities in the future."

Smith said about 50 active COVID-19 cases are in employees of food processing plants in the state, including facilities in Forrest City, De Queen and Dardanelle. He urged business owners to implement measures to curb the spread of the virus, like incentivizing employees to stay home if they have symptoms.

"The challenge with COVID-19 as we now know [is] that asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic transmission can and does occur. Even if all your workers have no symptoms and they have their temperatures checked, you could still have transmission," Smith said.

79 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas as of Wednesday with 16 on a ventilator. An announcement on whether summer camps and team sports would be allowed to resume in Arkansas was postponed to Thursday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson was absent from Wednesday’s briefing on the coronavirus pandemic as he was meeting with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House.