Arkansas’s governor says he is sending National Guard personnel to assist with an influx of COVID-19 patients at a northwest Arkansas hospital.
This comes as another 699 positive cases of the coronavirus were reported Monday bringing the state’s total to 33,927, and an additional six COVID-19 deaths brought the death toll to 363.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he’s authorized 10 National Guard members to assist with case management at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville for the next 30 days.
“We have more in terms of per capita hospitalizations than even some of those larger states, and so that shows the potential stress on our hospital capacity, also the strain that some of our hospital workers will be under,” Hutchinson said.
After a slight decline in recent days, the number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by 18 to 471, with 111 patients on a ventilator. Washington County saw the highest increase in new cases Monday with 94 residents testing positive. Pulaski County saw 60 new cases, with 57 residents of Benton County testing positive.
Hutchinson said he believes his statewide mask mandate, which went into effect Monday, will be effective despite some law enforcement agencies in the state saying they won’t enforce it.
“Certainly you have some that have expressed their opinion on the matter, but by and large, they’re law enforcement officers. They don't pick and choose as to what law they're going to enforce, generally they enforce the law,” Hutchinson said. “They always set priorities, I recognize that, but I've been encouraged by the response.”
Police officials in numerous parts of Arkansas, including Texarkana and Garland and Lonoke counties, have said they will not issue citations to people violating the mask order. Under the mandate, violators could face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $500.
Mitchell Simpson, director of the Arkansas Energy Office, said the state will use just over $8 million in CARES Act funding for two programs to help Arkansans with energy expenses.
“These programs will assist low income Arkansans who have accumulated larger-than-normal past due balances on their electric and natural gas bills, or who have depleted their supply of winter fuels such as propane, natural gas or even wood,” Simpson said. “Typically the crisis program requires an applicant to present a shutoff notice… applicants can submit a past-due notice to qualify for the crisis program.”
The programs are both an extension of the existing Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. A second program will go toward helping those vulnerable to the effects of summer heat, including elderly and sick Arkansans, pay for air conditioning in their homes.
Simpson said applicants can receive as much as $1,500 through the program. Applications for the program can be submitted beginning July 27.
As of Monday the state had 7,167 active COVID-19 cases, including 1,093 inmates of correctional facilities and 121 nursing home residents.