Arkansas has seen its third-largest daily increase in new coronavirus cases as the state plans to roughly quadruple the number of people working to track the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Wednesday the state saw 697 new coronavirus cases for a total of 17,375, while three COVID-19 deaths brought the state’s death toll to 240.
Speaking in his daily briefing, Hutchinson announced he’s directed the state Health Department to increase the number of contact tracers by 700 by late summer.
“Whenever you have this level of new cases, that challenges the resources on our contact tracing which is a fundamental part of our strategy. And we have to be able to do that effectively, we have to put the resources into the contact tracing, the testing and the isolation,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the state currently has about 200 contact tracers who identify and notify people who have had contact with COVID-19 patients. He said the staffing increase is expected to cost roughly $22 million, paid for by state funds and money from the $2 trillion federal CARES Act.
The state continues to have a record high number of active COVID-19 cases at 5,567, as well as the most people hospitalized with the disease since the pandemic began at 267.
Hutchinson also responded to new restrictions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut requiring travelers from states with heightened coronavirus activity, including Arkansas, to enter a two-week quarantine upon arrival.
“We have stopped the restrictions for different states coming here because they've reached their peak in New York and they're coming down,” Hutchinson said. “But it's a large part of the U.S. economy that right now is growing in their cases, and I don't know that that's effective to say we're going to start isolating the different states.”
Wednesday’s increase marks the third-largest single-day uptick in new coronavirus cases, with the first and second-highest increases happening earlier this month. Hot Spring County saw an increase of 168 new cases, primarily among inmates at the Ouachita River Unit state prison in Malvern.
Hutchinson also said the state would aim to test 180,000 people in the month of July, which if completed would represent 6% of the state’s population having been tested for COVID-19.