Number of new COVID-19 community cases in Arkansas sets record Tuesday

The number of new community COVID-19 cases in Arkansas set a new record, with 375 people testing positive since yesterday according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Only one of those cases was from a correctional facility, meaning that the rest were from the community at large.

Hospitalizations are also on the rise, with an increase of 11 since yesterday for a total of 132, also a new high.

The total number of reported cases in the state rose to 7,818, with 2,115 of those considered active.

A chart shows the recent rise of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas / Screen capture

Three more people died, bringing the death toll to 136. Officials said 5,567 patients have so far recovered from the illness.

Northwest Arkansas continued to lead the state in new cases, with Benton County reporting 65 new cases. Pulaski County reported 63 new cases, and Washington County reported 57. Sevier County had 33 new cases, Craighead County had 21, Yell County had 14, and Crittenden County had 10 new cases since yesterday.

In terms of testing, the governor announced an increase of 3,807 new tests since yesterday, including 713 conducted by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Hutchinson said he hopes to test every nursing home resident and staff member in the state in the month of June, which is part of a new goal to test over 120,000 residents before the month ends. If the state meets that goal, Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said it would be equivalent to testing 1% of the state’s population each week.

Latinx Stakeholders Group

Latinx stakeholders info / Screen capture

Gov. Hutchinson announced that a committee has been formed to increase outreach to the state’s Latinx community. The group, which includes 28 members representing multiple organizations throughout the state, including hospitals, faith-based groups, business leaders, and others, has been meeting since May.

The group has been tasked with increasing awareness of COVID-19 and access to testing, addressing language barriers, and ensuring individuals are aware of prevention guidelines. Dr. José Romero of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, who will succeed Smith in leading the Health Department in August, spoke briefly about the group’s work so far.

The governor and Smith have previously expressed concerns about the recent rise in cases among the Latinx population, and the new group hops to address these issues.

Discrepancy in daily positivity rate numbers

Hutchinson has touted relatively low positivity rates among those tested in the state as a sign of good news at his almost daily press briefings, but a chart shown during today’s press conference seemed to reflect much higher numbers, drawing questions from the media.

The chart (shown below) showed a positivity rate approaching 10% on May 29, for example, though the numbers reported during the briefing on that day was 4.1%.

A chart showing positivity rates in Arkansas / Screen capture

Members of the media have previously complained about the positivity rate numbers not adding up based on data presented during the briefings.

A reporter on Tuesday asked about the discrepancy, which Smith said is a result of late-arriving data.

“It is true that what I report as the positivity rate today, when we get all the numbers finalized by tomorrow, it may be different. Oftentimes it is,” Smith said. “We want to give you the most recent numbers, but as we get all of them in, there may be some adjustments made.

“Remember, normally when we report data, we’ve done a careful vetting of it, we’ve cleaned the data systems, historically oftentimes, it’ll be a year before we get a final dataset. We don’t have that kind of time in the midst of a pandemic, so I am giving you the most current numbers that I have, and we work very quickly to make those complete.”

Protests and public health

Smith was asked about the protests currently happening around the state, and public health and contact-tracing challenges they may present if a protester were to test positive for COVID-19.

“Whenever we have groups of people together without social distancing, especially if they are not wearing masks, then there is the risk spread of COVID-19, and contact tracing in that setting would be very challenging because people may not know who they have been in contact with,” he said. “My hope would be, or what I would urge our public, is if you are part of a group setting, a protest, a peaceful protest, still be mindful of other risks to you and to others. Although social distancing may be a challenge, do your best and wear your face mask.

“It would be a tragic thing if people came out to protest an injustice, and then ended up infected because of that,” Smith said.

A reporter asked Gov. Hutchinson if had made a request for assistance from the National Guard in light of comments by the president on Monday urging governors to do so, and Hutchinson said that he had not.

“I have not made any request of the federal government of military resources, and I do not see that in our future,” he said.