A sixth state prison inmate from the Cummins Unit in southeast Arkansas has died of COVID-19. Dr. Nate Smith, secretary of the state Department of Health, made the announcement at Wednesday's press briefing, adding that 876 prisoners there and 54 staffers have tested positive for the virus.
Statewide, 72 new positive were reported Wednesday, for a total of 3,568 since the outbreak spread to Arkansas. Smith said 20 of the new cases were in correctional facilities – either Cummins or a federal prison in Forrest City. Of the total positive cases, 1,374 are active cases, with 2,109 recoveries.
A second death announced Wednesday involved a resident at a nursing home, bringing the total 85.
Smith said areas with the highest growth rate for positive cases in the previous two days are Forrest City, Jonesboro, Texarkana and West Memphis. He said the rising number of cases in West Memphis is “expected spillover” from the high number of cases in Memphis. The rise in the number of cases in Forrest City could be related to the pandemic outbreak in the federal prison there, Smith said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced during the briefing that Arkansas is set to receive 90,000 COVID-19 testing kit supplies this month from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the expected supplies, he has set a goal of 60,000 tests to be conducted in May.
Reaching the goal would more than match the number of tests conducted in Arkansas since the COVID-19 pandemic began. According to the Arkansas Department of Health, there have been 58,713 tests conducted as of Wednesday. Hutchinson said he and Smith would provide more details Friday on their plan to reach the testing goal.
Meanwhile Steuart Walton, chairman of the Arkansas Economic Recovery Task Force, said he is encouraged by the progress being made to get the state reopened. He said the state will launch a website Friday to be a “consolidated area” with various guidelines for different business sectors that have been given the green light to begin limited reopenings.
Walton said he realizes the guidelines aren’t perfect, and they will be adjusted as they receive feedback from businesses. But he did stress that business owners must do their best to follow the rules and reopen in a manner that gives their employees and customers confidence.
“It does remain that businesses set the example in terms of following the guidelines issued by the Department of Health. I just can’t emphasize enough how important that is, because across the board, as people start to reengage in the economy, we’re going to have to find a way to do so in a safe way,” Walton said.