Arkansas has added almost 2,500 new cases and nearly 60 deaths from COVID-19 since last Friday as the state’s death toll approaches 800.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an uptick of 368 new cases, which brought the state’s total to 61,224, while another 13 deaths brought the death toll to 797.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson spoke against criticism from state lawmakers who argue the governor should not have the power to issue statewide public health orders, such as the recently-imposed mask-wearing requirement.
"I disagree with that completely. The General Assembly has given ability for public health guidelines, by statute, the ability for the Executive Branch to manage during a pandemic. And you cannot have public health guidelines delayed by three or four weeks as they might go through a legislative process," Hutchinson said.
Members of the legislature’s Joint Insurance and Commerce Committee on Monday disparaged the governor’s response to the pandemic, and heard testimony from physicians critical of mask mandates and supportive of the controversial COVID-19 treatment hydroxychloroquine.
Hutchinson also responded to criticism from lawmakers over coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and daily life still in effect in Arkansas.
"The Trump Administration is telling me I should be closing bars, putting further restrictions on restaurants and taking these steps. And we're resisting doing that because we have a mask mandate in place, and that's the tool that we can all use individually," Hutchinson said.
Education Secretary Johnny Key said high schools in Cross and Searcy counties have had to shift to virtual instruction because of teachers and staff having to quarantine. Hutchinson said he does not expect the state’s public schools to be affected by a shortage of teachers caused by them having to quarantine over possible exposure to the virus.
"I see that as a periodic problem that will be solved over time and that it might be a temporary interruption, but not something that will impact education across the state," Hutchinson said.
While schools in Arkansas can pivot to all-virtual instruction in the event of a coronavirus outbreak, Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero said the state hasn’t set an exact number of cases for when schools should do so.
"We have no threshold at which once a school has reached will be changed with regard to classes. As mentioned last week we are always consulting with the department of education and with the superintendents and will make individual decisions for each individual school as a situation arises," Romero said.
Romero said six of the 13 COVID-19 deaths added Monday were from previous months, while two were from nursing homes. The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 rose by 29 Monday for a total of 420, while the state currently has 5,466 active cases of the disease.
Pulaski County saw 50 residents test positive, with 41 new cases from Pope County and 30 from Benton County. The state received a total of 4,542 coronavirus test results over the past 24 hours.