Starting next month, visitors will be allowed in Arkansas nursing homes and long-term care facilities after being prohibited since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking in his daily briefing, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in-person visits can resume on July 1 at facilities where all residents and staff have been tested for COVID-19.
The announcement came the same day that Arkansas reported 415 additional people had tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 13,606. An increase of nine new deaths from the disease brought the state’s death toll to 197.
“This visitation will be applicable to our long-term care facilities including nursing homes, assisted living facilities and residential care facilities within the Department of Human Services,” Hutchinson said. “This will apply to facilities that have completed testing and meet the criteria outlined in the guidance from the Department of Health.”
Visits are required to be scheduled in advance and Department of Health guidelines encourage them to be held outdoors with face masks being worn and social distancing.
Hutchinson said the state can suspend visitation if outbreaks of the virus occur as a result.
“It's something that obviously we understand that if one person comes in that doesn't follow those protocols and there's a positive test from that, then we have to take steps so once again to start over in that facility. So I think everybody understands what's at stake here and the importance of it,” Hutchinson said.
Jerry Sharum, director of the Division of Provider services and Quality Assurance at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, said results from testing done at facilities across the state allow for reinstating visits.
“We're seeing that only about a third of nursing homes have active cases. About 80% of those are in about 12% of facilities with those active cases, and only 5% of nursing home totals overall,” Sharum said. “Baseline testing is also indicating and showing strongly that our positive test rate is less than 1% and that's for 14,000 tests that we've completed already.”
When asked about an ordinance passed by Fayetteville’s city council requiring residents to wear face masks in public, Hutchinson said he’s against cities and towns enacting protections contrary to the state’s guidelines.
“We want to make sure that we educate people, they exercise self-discipline, that they take their own responsibility,” Hutchinson said. “That's the preference, that’s the direction that we've gone as a state and I would discourage other cities from stepping out there.”
Hutchinson said he does not expect the state to take legal action against Fayetteville because of the ordinance, but that it could be possible should other cities approve similar rules. This comes as Washington County, of which Fayetteville is the county seat, saw 90 new cases of the virus Wednesday while neighboring Benton County had an increase of 81.
Of the state’s 4,413 active COVID-19 cases, 147 are nursing home residents while 676 are inmates of correctional facilities. The number of Arkansans hospitalized with COVID-19 increased by three to 217 Wednesday with 53 on a ventilator.