Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the percentage of Arkansans testing positive for the coronavirus is on the decline as the number of total cases in the state tops 3,000. He announced Monday that the state has 3,017 total cases, while an additional person has died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll to 50.
Though the number of cases and deaths continue to rise, Hutchinson said in his daily press briefing that the state will soon be ready to lift restrictions on businesses.
“In terms of the gating criteria that was given by the White House, it’s looking positive in terms of the trends, the trajectory here in the State of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.
According to Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith, laboratories across Arkansas completed just over 4,000 tests from Friday to Sunday. Only 1.8% of tests were positive on Sunday, which Smith said is well below the state’s average positivity rate of about 7.5%.
“We've opened up the criteria so more people are being tested. In the past, we were really testing higher risk individuals,” Smith said. “Our outbreak at the Cummins Unit, for example, is wrapping up in terms of testing, and we had a lot of testing in nursing homes previously and not as much now.”
Smith said almost every inmate and staff member at the prison near Pine Bluff has been tested. So far, 856 inmates and 50 staff have tested positive, while six inmates are hospitalized.
Of the 3,017 total coronavirus cases in Arkansas, 109 are hospitalized while 25 are on a ventilator. 316 healthcare workers have contracted the virus, as have 203 residents and 115 staff members at nursing homes in the state, officials said.
While Arkansas will likely not meet all the criteria set by the Trump Administration for reopening some businesses by Hutchinson’s target date of May 4, he said states have flexibility to lift restrictions beyond what the federal government recommends. That includes a ban on elective surgeries lifted Monday, which goes beyond recommendations in the initial phase of the White House’s “Opening Up America Again” plan.
The Health Department stipulates that patients must have had a coronavirus test within the previous 48 hours to undergo a minor elective procedure and Smith said the state has adequate supplies to carry out a higher testing capacity.
“Probably the rate-limiting step is the availability of swabs to hospitals, clinics other providers. And that’s real, and I don’t want to downplay that, but swabs are not like ventilators. They don’t take that long to produce, and we will expect to see more and more of those available,” Smith said.
Hutchinson said he will begin announcing this week whether he will lift restrictions on certain businesses by May 4, beginning with his decision on restaurants to be announced Wednesday.