State health officials are asking for more help tracking the COVID-19 outbreak as Arkansas sees over a week of consecutive triple-digit daily increases in new coronavirus cases.
Arkansas’s total number of people to test positive for the virus rose by 226 Friday for a total of 8,651, while the state’s death toll from COVID-19 rose by one to 152. An additional 10 coronavirus patients were hospitalized Friday for a total of 147.
Speaking in Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily briefing on the pandemic, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the state needs more people working to track the spread of COVID-19 as cases continue to rise.
“I would say that our contact tracing team is handling it, but they are definitely stretched. We have plans to expand. Our most immediate plan is, next week, we'll be training up to 100 volunteers,” Smith said.
Smith said the Arkansas Department of Health will train volunteers from various groups like Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the state Department of Human Services to do contact tracing, and that he hopes to double the state’s number of contact tracers in the next few months. The state currently has about 240 people doing contact tracing of coronavirus cases according to the Health Department.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, despite the rising number of cases, analysis of a sample of 190 positive cases reported last Monday shows the average number of people making contact with a COVID-19 patient appears to be going down.
“We had 190 cases and I think it was 222 contacts out of those. That is down from what was cited as the average earlier of 2.8 contacts per every case, and so that looks to me like it's down and I do think that we need to beef up our personnel that can do contact tracing,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the Health Department was able to complete a successful contact tracing on roughly half of the cases from Monday. An additional 222 people were identified as contacts of those 87 people to be successfully traced.
Smith said fewer than 10 of the people who tested positive Monday had recently visited a business that had previously been closed due to the pandemic.
“There’s a temporal relationship. We opened up a month ago and then we've got these cases, is there any connection between these two? And we're not seeing it at this point. This is typical for a day that we've seen in this second wave,” Smith said.
Smith said 39 of those people to test positive Monday were employees of the poultry industry, where over 500 workers have contracted the virus.
Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department’s medical director for immunizations and outbreak response, said Arkansans who have had contact with a COVID-19 patient should get tested, and ideally self-quarantine for two weeks.
“We encourage anyone who is a contact to go ahead and get tested, because it is possible that they have already developed the illness and haven't had symptoms yet; however, if they do have symptoms, we want them tested also,” Dillaha said. “Someone who tests negative and has no symptoms, and is a contact, they still need to remain quarantined for 14 days because they still could develop illness after the test.”
Gov. Hutchinson said he would provide more details Monday on his proposal to allow certain regions of the state to ease more restrictions on businesses.