The daily increase in new coronavirus cases has risen again in Arkansas as state officials prepare to loosen restrictions on recreational activities.
In his daily press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said 94 additional people had tested positive, bringing the total number of cases to 3,111. Two more people also died from COVID-19 bringing the overall death toll in the state to 52.
Despite the increases, Hutchinson said the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas appears to be leveling off.
“Both the cases and the hospitalizations will continue to increase in Arkansas. That’s just the reality of it because we’re doing more testing, and as you have more cases there’s going to be a certain percent of them that are hospitalized,” Hutchinson said.
As of Tuesday, 104 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Arkansas with 20 receiving mechanical ventilation. Of the state’s total case tally, 1,913 were considered active, including 911 inmates and employees at the Cummins Unit state prison.
Hutchinson confirmed that an employee of the nearby Barbara Ester Unit prison in Pine Bluff had tested positive for the virus, though Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said inmates that had contact with the employee have tested negative. Additionally, 99 inmates and staff at the Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City have been infected with the coronavirus.
Hutchinson said while he’s confident the state is sufficiently meeting certain criteria set by the Trump Administration for lifting some restrictions, that doesn’t merit a statewide reopening of businesses.
“We feel comfortable with our testing and our contact… tracing that we can do, with our hospital capacity,” Hutchinson said. “So we’re comfortable with all of those measures, but we recognize that if we don’t keep some of the restrictions in place and the guidelines in place, then we could have an outbreak, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst said, beginning Friday, a ban on overnight camping in state parks will be lifted for Arkansas residents with their own self-contained recreational vehicles.
“Of course, if these measures become problematic or dangerous in some way within our state parks for staff or for visitors, we will certainly reexamine these measures and make new recommendations to the governor,” Hurst said.
Cabins and lodges will be opened for weekend reservations on May 15, she said, along with visitor centers, shops, exhibits and restaurants at state parks, though social distancing requirements will still be in place. More highly-trafficked hiking trails, such as the Cedar Falls Trail at Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton, will remain closed until further notice.
Hutchinson is expected to announce Wednesday whether he will allow restaurants in Arkansas to open in a limited capacity by May 4. The governor will announce a decision on gyms the following day, with decisions on hair salons and places of worship to follow.
While new coronavirus cases continue to rise, 1,146 Arkansans have recovered from the virus according to the state Health Department. Health Secretary Smith said 30 people who have recovered from COVID-19 have donated plasma, while 13 patients who are ill with the coronavirus have received convalescent plasma therapy.