Arkansas’s top public health official says the state has ordered a Little Rock clinic to stop providing elective surgical abortions as the coronavirus outbreak continues.
The order comes as two more people have died from COVID-19 in Arkansas, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 23. 1,171 people have tested positive for the virus in Arkansas, with 836 of those considered active cases.
Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith said an investigation of Little Rock Family Planning Services found the clinic was in violation of a Health Department directive calling for all elective medical procedures to be postponed in order to limit physical contact and conserve personal protective equipment.
“We had discussed it with the facility, they expressed that they were not intending to change their practices in any way, so we gave a letter to ‘cease and desist’ until it’s safe to do that,” Smith said.
Smith said he expects restrictions on elective procedures to be lifted in a matter of “weeks, not months.” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said abortions can still be performed in Arkansas for life-threatening situations.
“If there’s that kind of a circumstance, they have access to that procedure here. The concern is both following the same directive that we’ve given to other surgery facilities in Arkansas, and then secondly… it’s a matter of [people from] other states that are coming here for this facility,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson and Smith made their remarks in the governor’s daily press briefing Friday, shortly after speaking with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Hutchinson said Fauci issued a “stamp of approval” for Arkansas’s approach to only restricting certain businesses instead of a broader “shelter-in-place” order.
“He said, ‘what you’re doing is right, what you’re doing is good, what you’re accomplishing is a model.’ And so it doesn’t mean it’s a model for everybody, but it’s right for Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.
Fauci, an infectious disease specialist who has been a leading public figure of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, had previously urged all states to order people to stay at home.
Smith said, of the two latest people to die from COVID-19 in Arkansas, one was over the age of 65 while the other was younger than 65. Smith said 86 coronavirus patients are hospitalized in Arkansas, with 33 on mechanical ventilation. 168 healthcare workers have also tested positive for the virus, according to Smith.
According to Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston, the state has received 132,000 applications for unemployment insurance, and that Arkansans who applied last week will have their claims processed by Sunday.
Hutchinson also said he had been in contact with the family of Richard Richardson, the first state employee to die from COVID-19.
“He was a substance abuse counselor for [Arkansas] Community Corrections. He served our state well, and I just wanted to acknowledge publicly his life and the contributions that he has made here to the State of Arkansas.”
After nearly a month of daily press briefings on the coronavirus outbreak in Arkansas, Hutchinson said he will not hold another briefing until Monday.