For the sixth time this month, Arkansas has seen its largest single-day increase in non-incarcerated people testing positive for the coronavirus.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced 678 new cases brought the state’s total to 18,740, while the state’s COVID-19 death toll rose by seven to 249. The number of people in Arkansas hospitalized with the disease remained at 284.
Speaking in his daily briefing, Hutchinson said he’s directing officers with the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division to report bars and restaurants not complying with the state’s public health guidelines directly to the state Department of Health.
"They're doing a very good job out there but there's a few outliers, and we do not want those outliers to be a reason to close down some business," Hutchinson said. "So let's be successful there, and this additional inspection and resource capability for reviewing compliance will be very helpful to us."
Washington County saw an increase of 122 new cases Friday with 84 residents of Pulaski County testing positive. Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the state will complete its testing of every nursing home resident and employee in the state by Saturday.
Smith said, while no correlation exists between people visiting businesses like bars and restaurants and later contracting the coronavirus, clusters of virus activity have been identified at places of worship in the state.
"I don't think anyone intentionally puts their attendees, their members at risk. I think sometimes either for whatever reason they struggle to implement those guidelines, or they have miscalculated the risk," Smith said. "Unfortunately once there is a cluster then that risk is recalculated and people generally adhere to the guidelines after that."
According to the state Health Department, only 2% of the 5,707 Arkansans to currently have COVID-19 visited a restaurant, place of worship, or doctor’s office in the past two weeks. Smith said the only other venues where clusters of infection have been identified are poultry plants, where a total of 2,455 workers have tested positive.
Despite current Health Department numbers not indicating any correlation, Hutchinson said he would be open to re-imposing business restrictions in response to growing coronavirus cases.
“If the data showed that we're having outbreaks as a result of bars not following guidelines and resulting in positive cases… then certainly we would take action. But that has not been the case,” Hutchinson said.
Though still against issuing a statewide requirement for Arkansans to wear facemasks, Hutchinson spoke in support of a similar executive order issued by Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. Hutchinson called Scott’s order a “proclamation” saying that it does not appear to require people to wear masks or face a civil penalty.