While An Increase Is Expected, No New Arkansas COVID-19 Cases Tuesday

Mar 17, 2020

Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston (at the podium) announcing Tuesday that the state is taking steps to make it easier for workers impacted by the health crisis to receive unemployment benefits.
Credit Governor's Office / YouTube

Arkansas has not had a new positive case of COVID-19 reported over the last 24 hours, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced mid-morning Tuesday. It's the first day since state officials began conducting daily briefings last Wednesday that there has not been an uptick in diagnosed cases, with the number standing at 22.

But with testing for the virus ramping up, he expects the number will rise.

"We do not have the testing that we need to really be confident that we don’t have a greater issue," Hutchinson said. "As the testing increases, it is likely that the number of cases that have been identified will increase as well."

The governor said there is no indication of widespread community transmission of the virus in Arkansas, but as a precaution, ordered the three casinos in the state to be closed for the next two weeks. The press conference was held in West Memphis on the campus of community college Arkansas State University-Mid-South. The city is home to Southland Casino, where Hutchinson said 900 hourly workers will face a financial hardship.

To help displaced workers at businesses impacted by the health crisis, Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said restrictions for receiving unemployment benefits are being loosened.

"We are waiving the one week waiting period for the next 30 days to allow people to respond, act quicker, so there’s not going to be a break – a gap – in terms of their paycheck," Preston said. "We know that we’re going to be able to support those workers who were laid off and are impacted."

He said the state is working to prepare a financial assistance package for businesses that are being impacted as the public is told to stay at home to avoid spreading the virus.

While there have been 22 positive cases so far in the state, Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said it was good news that nearly 200 test results have been negative. But he warned that the state is "at the beginning of the storm" and that more positive cases can be expected as the Department of Health and UAMS increase testing and more results come back from commercial labs.