Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Arkansas is at a “critical point” in the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a recent rise in positive cases, Hutchinson said Arkansans will soon know whether the state has reached the ceiling of a second peak or if that increase is just the beginning of a major spike that will keep the state locked into Phase 1 of its reopening plan.
Hutchinson said it will ultimately be up to the people to decide when things can move closer to normal.
“The direction that we go from here totally depends on the discipline and the commitment of the people of Arkansas to avoid circumstances in which they would contribute to the spread,” said Hutchinson. “So I challenge Arkansans to think this through and realize that we are trying to open up our economy and lift restrictions…but we can’t get to Phase 2 when we see a continued upward trajectory.”
The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Arkansas reached 6,180 on Tuesday, which is an increase of 151 since Monday. Leading the new cases count was Washington County with 29, Sevier County with 17, Benton County with 16, and St. Francis County with 13.
It’s the sixth day in a row with statewide triple-digit increases that started when the governor last week announced the state’s highest spike in positive cases since the pandemic began.
Over half of the 455 new cases announced on May 21 came from within a correctional facility, but since then the new positive cases have mostly been from the community at large.
Community cases make up 1,191 of the state’s current 1,729 active cases or 69%. The remaining active cases are classified as being in correctional facilities (466 or 27%) or nursing homes (72 or 4%).
Hutchinson said even though the state’s hospitalization rate is still relatively low, there are 107 people currently hospitalized with the illness, which is close to the highest count (109) the state has seen yet. The death toll is at 119.
The governor said it’s important to note the positives along with the concerns.
He said the state has exceeded its goal of testing 60,000 people this month. The state has so far reported 61,922 tests in May and still has six more days of reporting before June.
Hutchinson also said he wanted to acknowledge those across the state who are still practicing social distancing and wearing masks when going out in public.
“I know the national media focuses on one or two instances in which things look bad, and it does show a lack of discipline when people are not socially distanced and when they are congregating where the virus can spread rapidly,” he said. “But you also want to recognize how many people in Arkansas have done the right thing…because the vast majority are really paying attention to follow the guidelines and to make sure that they do not contribute to the spread of this virus.”
Health Department director leaving for CDC
Gov. Hutchinson today announced that Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith has accepted a position with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. His last day in Arkansas is Aug. 28.
Hutchinson said he’s known about Smith’s impending departure for a while, but said Smith chose to remain at the helm of the department during the pandemic and to help with the transition for his replacement.
The governor has appointed Dr. Jose Romero as interim director of the Health Department. Romero is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and a professor of pediatrics at UAMS. He also serves as medical director for pediatric infectious diseases at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and before that was professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Nebraska.