The northwest region of Arkansas continues to lead the state in new cases of COVID-19 as the total number of cases has surpassed 8,400.
According to the state Department of Health, Arkansas added 358 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 8,425. Of those new cases, 2,355 are considered active. 151 people have died from the coronavirus in the state, an increase of nine.
A large portion of Thursday’s briefing was spent breaking down the trends of cases in five regions of the state. Of the new cases, 234 or 65.4% came from northwest Arkansas. Central and northeast Arkansas had 37 and 31 new cases respectively, while southwest and southeast Arkansas had the fewest number of new cases, with 19 and 12.
Speaking on the continued high number of new cases in northwest Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the region is really experiencing its first wave of the pandemic.
"Even though it was flat for so long in northwest Arkansas, they thought that they were past it all. In fact, when we opened it up on May 4, they didn’t have anything and all of a sudden, they’ve had that second wave, which is actually their first wave," Hutchinson said.
According to Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith, about half of Thursday's new coronavirus cases came from the state’s Latino community. As far as the state’s testing efforts, Smith says the state is ahead of schedule to meet its goal for the month.
"For the month we’ve done 12,199. So that represents really three days this month, so we’re actually ahead of pace to hit 120,000," Smith said.
Of the nine new deaths from COVID-19, Smith said some occurred earlier in nursing homes, but were not reported until today.
Arkansas is still in phase one of its reopening strategy. Hutchinson said he has been on the phone with businesses concerning when the state will move to forward with phase two. According to the guidelines from White House, phase two applies to "states and regions with no evidence of a rebound and that satisfy the gating criteria a second time."
"While we’ve kept our state together and there’s a lot of wisdom in that, we want to make sure that we are looking at the region separately and giving good council and advice in each of those regions as we fight this virus," Hutchinson said.
When asked by reporters if the state would move to a regional approach to reopening the state to phase two, with different parts of the state opening at different times, Hutchinson said that is a possibility.
"Once you go into a new phase, it’s hard to roll it back. So we just want to be careful and make the right judgement on there. But that’s something that we’re looking at and we’ll make a decision on that next week," Hutchinson said.
As far as the likelihood of a special legislative session focused on liability concerns for businesses due to COVID-19, Hutchinson said there are currently no plans for a special session and while he has heard from some state senators in favor of the idea, he has not heard from the House in a similar fashion.