Despite seeing two days in a row of declining daily increases in new coronavirus cases, Arkansas has seen its largest single-day increase in people hospitalized with COVID-19.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday an additional 32 Arkansans had been hospitalized, while 259 people testing positive for the coronavirus brought the state’s total to 24,512. The number of Arkansans hospitalized rose to 369, while the state’s COVID-19 death toll increased by nine to 301.
Speaking in the governor’s daily briefing on the pandemic, Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said a lack of testing is to blame for Tuesday’s lower than average increase in new cases.
“My joy of our lower number of new cases is modified due to the decreased testing that we saw over the weekend, and this is just a function of fewer people collecting specimens over the holiday weekend,” Smith said. “Our numbers in testing have been down in the three thousands over the last two days, but we expect those to pick up.”
Smith said a total of 3,366 coronavirus tests were completed in Arkansas from Monday to Tuesday, as opposed to average daily testing totals ranging between 6,000 and 7,000 seen in recent weeks.
Tuesday’s record increase in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 came just over one week after 878 Arkansans tested positive for the coronavirus; the state’s largest single-day increase in new cases. Hutchinson said the state’s hospitals still have the capacity to cope with the upswing in COVID-19 patients.
“I don’t want to diminish the stress that is on the hospital workers. That is where the challenge is, that's a lot of patients that they're having to work with,” Hutchinson said. “But there is the capacity to handle what we have, and we look at that every day.”
Pulaski County saw the highest increase in new coronavirus cases Tuesday with 57 people testing positive. Benton County saw 26 new cases, with 14 from neighboring Washington County. Arkansas had 5,486 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday.
Smith said, while the number of new coronavirus infections seems to be flattening out in northwest Arkansas, cases are steadily rising in the central part of the state.
“In terms of the central region, Pulaski County in particular, looking at per population per capita testing, it's lower here actually in central Arkansas than in the other parts of the state. So we really need the perception here of people right here in Pulaski County and in central Arkansas, ‘we need to get tested as well,’” Smith said.
Smith said the Health Department is also developing strategies to increase coronavirus testing in nursing homes and correctional facilities in order to reach the state’s goal of completing 200,000 tests in July.
Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said both first-time and recurring claims for unemployment benefits appear to have leveled off after reaching peaks while businesses in the state were closed due to the pandemic. Preston said the state has also distributed roughly $330 million to self-employed Arkansans through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Preston said the state is investigating roughly 20,000 claims for both traditional unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as possibly fraudulent. He said Arkansans can report possible instances of unemployment fraud by completing an online form or by calling (501) 682-1058.