Gov. Asa Hutchinson is again defending his policy of a more targeted approach to restricting daily life in Arkansas as the death toll from COVID-19 rises to 12 people.
Hutchinson announced the latest deaths Thursday, saying 643 people in the state have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, is the second state legislator to test positive for the virus, one week after the House and Senate convened for a special legislative session. Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, also tested positive earlier in the week.
According to Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith, the two latest people to die from COVID-19 were residents of central Arkansas and had underlying health conditions. One was over 65 years of age, and one between the ages of 19 and 64.
Smith said one of those people was a resident at Little Rock’s Briarwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, bringing the number of nursing home residents who’ve died of the virus to two. Of the 12 COVID-19 patients who have died in Arkansas, eight were over the age of 65 and four were between 19 and 64.
Arkansas remains one of a handful of states that has not implemented any statewide or local orders for people to stay at home in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Hutchinson said the state is consistent in assessing whether restrictions already in place are effective at curbing the spread of the virus.
“If I entered the stay at home order today, similar to what the other states have done, tomorrow morning over 700,000 Arkansans would get up and go to work… because they’re engaged in essential industries and manufacturing of essential products in our state,” Hutchinson said. “But you would also put a couple hundred thousand out of jobs. And so the question is, are you accomplishing anything by doing that order?”
Smith also said there’s little evidence that shelter in place orders are more effective at curbing the spread of COVID-19 than restrictions already in place in Arkansas, citing the state's low population density.
Of the 643 people with COVID-19 in Arkansas, 66 were hospitalized as of Thursday, with 23 on mechanical ventilation. 51 nursing home residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 47 people in the state have met the criteria for recovery.
Smith said 91 healthcare workers in the state have tested positive for the virus, including 10 physicians, 26 nurses and four Certified Nursing Assistants. Additionally, 24 staffers at nursing homes have received positive test results.
Wendy Kelley, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, said inmates in the state’s prison system have begun working toward manufacturing as many as 80,000 cloth face masks. She said two of the more than 18,000 people incarcerated in state prisons have been tested for the coronavirus, and that one prison employee who did not have direct contact with inmates has tested positive.
“Everybody that has symptoms is being monitored. We’re a closed community, so once [COVID-19] gets in, it will be disastrous, but because we’re closed it’s less likely to get in there than it is to reach y’all,” Kelley said.
Kelley said the department has waived co-pays for inmates in an effort to encourage them to seek healthcare if they are symptomatic.
Smith said the Health Department has received testing supplies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is set to receive additional reagents from laboratory company BioFire Diagnostics. Hutchinson said the state has received 70% of its shipment of personal protective equipment from a national stockpile, and that equipment the state has ordered from manufacturers is beginning to arrive.