Arkansas has seen the largest single-day increase in new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began as three more deaths from COVID-19 brings the state’s death toll to 110.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday the state saw 455 new positive test results for the virus, bringing the total number of people who have ever tested positive to 5,458.
Speaking in his daily briefing on the pandemic, Hutchinson said he would not reinstate business restrictions because of the increase.
"We never did shelter in place, we're not going to go back to it, we're not going to further shut down our economy, we're going to have to learn to manage this economy and we're also going to have to stop the spread of the virus," Hutchinson said.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health, the state’s 455 new coronavirus cases are split almost evenly between the general public and the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City. Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said positive tests from that facility were identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week and not added to the state’s total caseload until Thursday.
Smith said the uptick did not result from an outbreak of the virus in any particular part of the state.
"This is a definitely a concern especially since we're seeing an uptick in our hospitalizations, but we need to put this in context," Smith said. "We'll be gathering more information on these cases and trying to identify patterns… so we can better understand and prevent the spread of COVID-19."
Smith said Yell County had the highest increase with 33 new cases, which he says is likely related to an outbreak among workers at a poultry-related business. Northwest Arkansas saw the second-largest increase with 53 new cases in Washington and Benton counties.
Smith said the state’s record increase is largely due to increased coronavirus testing and said the Health Department will direct its testing efforts toward counties with increasing numbers of new cases.
"This is not a biological [phenomenon], we don't go from 80 to even 226 overnight because of new infections," Smith said. "We have dramatically increased our testing since last month. In the first 3 weeks of this month we've tested almost as many as we tested the entire months of March and April."
Of the state’s 1,433 active coronavirus cases, 543 are from prisons, 94 from nursing homes and 796 from the community. 86 Arkansans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday with 14 on a ventilator.
Hutchinson also announced that certain limited contact team sports like baseball, gymnastics and track can resume for K-12 students on June 1, while overnight summer camps can reopen by the end of May. Student athletes and coaches must follow screening, hygiene and social distancing guidelines. Practice and competition for close-contact sports like basketball, football and soccer will remain prohibited.
Smith urged parents to familiarize themselves with the state’s guidelines for team sports and summer camps by reading the directives on the Health Department’s website.
"We know that COVID-19 is being spread in… most of our communities in the state at some level, and we want to make these activities as safe for children as possible. And that's the reason for the detailed requirements in these directives, is so that children can be involved in these without putting them at undue risk."
Gov. Hutchinson said the state’s online portal for self-employed Arkansans to file for unemployment benefits is functioning after a security breach caused it to go offline. He said Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments have been sent to 3,975 Arkansans so far.