Arkansas COVID-19 cases increase to 523, governor considers closing some state parks

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at a March 31 briefing

The number of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas has increased to 523, up 50 from Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in his daily press briefing held Tuesday afternoon.

The cases include 64 people who have been hospitalized as a result of the illness, and one new death for a total of fatalities from the virus in the state to eight. 35 people have recovered.

Hutchinson said the virus has spread to three new counties in the state, including Columbia, Perry, and Newton County, bringing the total number of counties with cases of COVID-19 to 51.

The governor said the total number of cases in the state is currently tracking below initial projections, indicating social distancing measures in place have been successful thus far in limiting the spread of the virus.

Hutchinson, however, said he is concerned about the number of visitors to Arkansas state parks, many who are coming from out of state that may be congregating in large groups not consistent with social distancing recommendations. As a result, he said, additional measures to limit those gatherings, including the possibility of closing some parks, is on the table.

“I have received reports that there’s congregation of larger numbers of people along the Buffalo River, and some of our state parks,” Hutchinson said. “As a result I have directed my administration to look at ways to curtail the recreational traveler from out of state into Arkansas.

“It may involve some closing of some of our most frequently visited state parks,” he said.

Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said of the 523 cases in Arkansas, 17 are children under the age of 18, 158 are over age 65, and 348 are between the ages of 18-64.

Smith said of the comorbid cases in the state, 44 have diabetes, 39 have heart disease, 23 have chronic lung disease, 12 have chronic kidney disease, and 16 have immunocompromised conditions.

Smith said 79 of the current cases are healthcare workers, 64 are hospitalized (up 2), 47 are in nursing homes, and 23 are on a ventilator (up 2). The new death, he said was an individual over age 65.

Lab testing capability, Smith said, is still a challenge due to national shortage of reagents, but testing is still increasing daily.

Smith said state officials are working with the National Guard to build upon surge capacity for hospitalized patients in the state in order to increase the number of available hospital beds if they are needed.

For patients who have tested positive but have recovered from COVID-19, Smith advised if they are seven days past the onset of their illness, and without fever for at least three days, they are safe to return to work. Healthcare workers helping high risk patients may need to stay out longer, he said. For someone who has been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, Smith said, they should still remain quarantined for 14 days.

“You aren’t doing your colleagues a favor by coming back early,” he said.