Arkansas has added 154 new coronavirus cases to its total following a record increase Thursday with three more deaths from COVID-19 bringing the state’s number of deaths to 113.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the uptick at a press briefing Friday, saying the state has 5,612 total cases of the coronavirus with 1,470 considered active and 81 people hospitalized.
Hutchinson said certain factors, like the average positivity rate for coronavirus tests, point to the state being able to move to a second phase of lifting restrictions over the summer.
"I certainly would not try to put it in the fall, that far away. We hope to get there much sooner than that, we're anxious to get there. But obviously with the uptick that we've seen… we're not thinking about phase two right now in the very short term," Hutchinson said.
Under the Trump Administration’s "Opening Up America Again" plan, states seeking to move to a second phase of reopening must have no evidence of a resurgence in coronavirus cases, and have a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases or positive test results for 14 days. Arkansas’s positivity rate for coronavirus testing was 4.4% as of Friday.
Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said most of Friday’s new cases came from the community, as opposed to congregate settings like prisons and nursing homes. Of the state’s active cases, 86 are from nursing homes, 510 are from prisons, and 874 are from the community.
Washington County in northwest Arkansas saw the highest increase Friday with 32 new cases, with more than half of those coming from three households. Benton County saw 22 new cases while 19 additional residents of Pulaski County tested positive.
Smith said 13 more inmates have tested positive at the Federal Correctional Institution, Forrest City. Inmates at that facility made up roughly half of the state’s record increase of 455 new coronavirus cases Thursday.
According to Smith, the Health Department has been in contact with over half of the 224 members of the community reported on Thursday to have tested positive.
"Of those, 24% are known to be contacts of a previous case. 37 of those 137 that we've contacted are connected with clusters at sites of employment," Smith said.
Smith said Thursday’s workplace-related cases were at poultry plants in Rogers, Dardanelle and Springdale, as well as St. Bernard’s Medical Center in Jonesboro. Hutchinson said the state will respond to outbreaks in workplaces on a case-by-case basis, rather than imposing blanket restrictions on industry sectors.
"If we see that there is a breakout in a particular facility, we will look at what action needs to be taken there. If we see it in the prisons we take action that's there, and so it depends upon what our contact tracing tells us to do," Hutchinson said. "But we want to be in a position to manage our situation consistent with a growing economy."
Hutchinson said that by Saturday the state will send out over 10,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments to self-employed Arkansans affected by the coronavirus outbreak. He said funds will be sent out this weekend to roughly 8,200 applicants of the state’s Ready for Business Grant Program, which will help cover expenses for small businesses related to the pandemic.
With Memorial Day weekend underway, Secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst urged Arkansans to exercise caution when using the state’s outdoor areas.
"Our uniformed state park staff will be monitoring and enforcing the safe physical distancing that is required," Hurst said. "I encourage you all to use your state parks but to do so responsibly."
Hurst said more popular trails in the state park system have reopened, including the Cedar Falls trail at Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton.