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State prepares for Memorial Day during pandemic reopening

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Friday news conference on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic included information on the economic response along with information on state activities, including commemoration of veterans on Memorial Day.

The governor was joined by Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Nate Todd and Secretary of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Stacy Hurst.

Arkansas had 5,612 COVID-19 cases as of Friday afternoon, up 154 since Thursday. Of those 154, 135 are in the general population, the remainder in either nursing homes or prisons. Hospitalizations decreased slightly, with 81 after 86 on Thursday. Fourteen are on ventilators, that number unchanged since Thursday. Deaths have increased by three to 113.

Since Thursday 2,909 tests had been performed returning a 4.5 percent positivity rate. This is well below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 10 percent number, which would indicate a serious problem, the governor said.

To date 102,041 tests have been recorded in the state, with 51,275 recorded in May.

Contact tracing had begun on Thursday’s single-day record-setting 452 cases, with 61 percent of the contacts of that number having been traced. Washington County showed 32 cases from Thursday, with the majority of those cases coming from three households, the governor said.

The Washington County results “shows the quickness of spread in a household,” Hutchinson said.

A second traced case range from Paragould showed eight cases coming from the same street.

“This reminds us that we have to continue to be careful and practice our social distancing,” the governor said. “We can handle this if we are doing the right thing.”

The governor opened his statements with the unemployment numbers, first the national numbers, of 14.7 percent, and compared this against the Arkansas number at 10.2 percent unemployment. While not happy with the 10.2 number, the governor said it reflected well on the state overall. He reminded that those were March numbers, before restrictions began to be lifted, and April is expected to show better numbers.

Currently 102,000 people are unemployed in Arkansas.

As a component of this, the governor said, the Arkansas Ready for Business grant program had approved 8,198 applicants with payments being sent out Friday.

Additional grant applications remain under review, due to either needing more info or having the wrong information submitted, Hutchinson said in response to a question. He did not have a number for under-review applications.

The states Pandemic Unemployment Assistance website, which the governor said “had some challenges” has paid 7,105 claims with an additional 3,000 more having funds sent out Thursday night, Hutchinson said.

That website to provide unemployment assistance to freelance and gig-economy workers, was scheduled to be online last week, but was taken down lMay 15 after an issue with personal information privacy was brought to light. It was placed back in service this week after repairs.

Those who had received an email this morning telling them to apply at the PUA website should do so in order for their weekly claim to be processed, the governor said.

Today’s announcement was from Smith, who said the state’s elective surgery directives had again been updated, now removing all restrictions on the health of the patient, and further removing all restrictions on the length of hospital stay. Testing is of patients is now permissible up to 72 hours in advance of admission for surgery, although 48 hours remains preferred, Smith said.

Now if a patient is being admitted for elective surgery, which is being done outside the hospital and would have no co-mingling, along with the surgery having no body cavity or joint space penetration, for example out-patient cataract surgery, no testing is required, Smith said.

Hurst listed trails which will be open during the holiday weekend, adding that “Uniformed staff will be monitoring and enforcing safe distance” guidelines, encouraging any taking to the parks this weekend to enjoy them responsibly.

“Please avoid congregating,” she said.

Hurst also encouraged the use of state natural areas, ecologically protected spaces, as an alternative to state parks as a way to enjoy the outdoors while avoiding possible crowds, and congregation risks, at state parks.

Hurst also added in light of the expected rain this weekend: “Please be mindful of water levels and potential for flooding. Please be safe and have a good holiday.”

Todd discussed two wreath-laying ceremonies scheduled for Monday, the first in North Little Rock at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery, and the second at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery at Birdeye, in Cherry Valley. The ceremonies will not be open to the public, Todd said, but could be viewed via Facebook Live.

Families will still be able to visit grave sites during the holiday, Todd said.

Hutchinson was asked about President Trump’s call today for governors to re-open places of worship.

He reminded that the state had already reopened churches, with recommended guidelines.

Community shows support for St. Andrews Place residents

St. Andrews Place Therapy and Living Center residents cried tears of joy Wednesday after they were able to see their family members’ faces for the first time in two months.

The facility organized a parade to lift the residents’ spirits. However, the organizers had no clue the event would tug on their emotions as much as it did.

Yvette Jackson, the activities director at St. Andrews Place, spent two days reaching out to the 66 residents’ family members to let them know about the event. Jackson also reached out to the Conway Fire Department and Conway Police Department to help make the parade as lively as she could.

Organizing the parade was a way to boost morale at the senior living center, Jackson said, adding that the residents have been unable to have in-person contact with their families since health and safety procedures became stricter in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“They haven’t seen their family members; they’ve only seen them from the windows,” she said.

Nearly everyone involved (St. Andrews Place staff, residents, family members and other parade participants) cried as the event took life, Jackson said, adding that a man who was not involved in the process witnessed the group setting up for the main event and asked if his family could also participate.

“A complete stranger pulled up as we were in the process of getting everyone outside and asked what we were doing,” she said. “He said: ‘I’ve never seen something like this before’ and asked if he and his two little boys could join too.”

St. Andrews Place Marketing Director Heather Sue said the amount of participation that went into making this event possible for the facility’s residents was overwhelming.

“I don’t think three was a single person there that wasn’t moved by the experience,” Sue told the Log Cabin Democrat.

Resident Noah Sharpe said he will not forget the experience anytime soon.

“I loved it. The little children got beautiful and the elders had a lot of fun,” the 76-year-old man, adding that it was clear those participating in the parade were also “rooting for the caregivers.”

The event was particularly moving for one Perry County woman. The Toad Suck resident said it was the first time she’d seen her mother and brother’s faces in two months.

Michelle Baxter’s mother has lived at St. Andrews Place for about five years. She said her brother moved into the facility nearly two years ago after he suffered a massive stroke.

“It was the first time I’ve seen their faces in two months,” she said Friday afternoon. “Honestly, I’m just so glad [the facility’s staff] is doing everything they can to keep [the residents] safe. I’m just beyond grateful for the parade.”

Jamie Martin, who works as a home health specialist for Kindred at Home, also participated in Wednesday’s parade.

The home health specialist said she assists many of the former residents when they transition from therapy to living at home again. Martin said she decorated her Jeep with balloons and signs featuring encouraging messages for the residents and staff. However, she said she did not expect such a “huge” turnout.

“I noticed that everyone had a smile on their face from those participating in the parade as well as the residents … even those passing by were smiling and waving,” Martin said.

Overall, the caregiver said it was “absolutely amazing” to see the community come together in support of the residents, family of residents and St. Andrews Place Staff.

Seeing the residents lined up outside was encouraging, but even more moving for Mayflower resident Tammy Lee when she saw her own mother waiting to see the show.

“That was the best thing … I haven’t seen [my mother] since this all started,” Lee said.

Not only was she glad the residents were able to get outside and see their families, but Baxter also told the Log Cabin she was proud of the facility’s staff for having the residents practice social distancing guidelines during the event.

“They took every precaution they could,” she said. “All were 6 feet apart and wearing masks.”

Downtown Conway farmers market focuses on health, safety

The Downtown Conway Farmers’ and Crafts Market located in downtown Conway strives to keep its customers safe while providing quality food and products.

Due to the pandemic, the market had to create new rules to keep both its vendors and customers safe. The new rules give several new restrictions. For instance, the rules prohibit food sampling, require vendors’ booths to be at least six feet apart, require vendors to sanitize their tables and require vendors to wear face masks.

This year, the market modeled its rules after a market in Seattle.

“[The market in Seattle has] one of the most stringent requirements, so I felt if we could align with them and follow their guidelines, then we would most likely be over planning and over protecting,” Downtown Conway Farmers’ and Crafts Market Manager and President Judith Allen said.

Allen said she felt over planning was necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.

Market vendor Peggy Gregory, who co-owns Almosta Ranch Apiary with Bob Gregory, said social distancing rules have not negatively impacted the market.

“We’ve been very pleased with the customers and the way they’ve adjusted to the market. Like us, they are glad to be out and be able to talk to people,” Gregory said.

When talking about the customers at the market, Allen said: “They are just really anxious to get back to society, even if it’s through a mask.”

The market has done well since it opened, and it has even gained new customers.

“We are definitely meeting new customers that we’ve never met before,” Allen said.

Besides the safety of vendors and customers, those in charge of the market care about the quality of the products the market sells. One way the market ensures its products are high quality is by following the cottage laws. Allen said these laws require the food sold at the market to have been produced or made by the person selling the food.

There is a system in place to make sure all the vendors at this market are creating the items they sell.

“We go to the farms, and we go to the bakers’ facilities. We make sure that everything they’re bringing to market they’ve actually grown [or baked]” Allen said.

Items vendors sell at the market include produce, jams and jellies, meats, honey, soap, bread, face masks, and crafts.

“It’s really important to know not only where your food is coming from but that it’s coming to you very safely,” Allen said.

The market also cares about helping veterans. This Saturday, many vendors at the market are offering discounts to veterans and service personnel for Memorial Day.

The market is located at 718 Parkway, Conway AR, 72032. The market is open every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. At some point in June the market will open up on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well. The market will remain open until October.

Armed robbery suspect held on $100K bond

Rickey Fuller

A Conway man was ordered to remain behind bars in lieu of a $100,000 bond after reportedly robbing a Forest Lake Estates tenant at gunpoint last week.

Rickey Le Alyn Fuller, 21, was ordered earlier this week by District Judge Chris R. Carnahan to remain behind bars in lieu of a $100,000 bond after he was charged with aggravated robbery, a Class Y felony; first-degree terroristic threatening, a Class D felony; and possession of a controlled substance, a Class A misdemeanor.

Deputy prosecutor Cody Arnold requested the $100,000 bond be imposed against Fuller because the Conway man “currently has three open Faulkner County cases as well.”

Should the robbery suspect post bond, he would be required to wear an ankle monitor, per the judge’s order.

The felony case was filed against Fuller after he reportedly robbed another Conway resident at gunpoint on May 15.

A Forest Lake Estates tenant called the Conway Police Department on May 15 saying a man with a gun held him at gunpoint and stole his backpack at the trailer park, according to a probable cause affidavit. The Forest Lake Estates tenant also said there was money in the stolen bag and that he was chasing after the suspect.

Responding officers were able to quickly locate the suspect because the Forest Lake Estates tenant who called police was following him as he fled, according to the affidavit.

As officer Joseph Manno caught up to the suspect vehicle, officer Brittany Byrd also spotted him on College Avenue.

Byrd followed the black GMC Envoy that Fuller was driving into a cul-de-sac and blocked him from fleeing. According to the report, as the suspect tried to turn around, he “came bumper to bumper with Ofc. Byrd’s patrol vehicle and came to a complete stop.”

Once they handcuffed the suspect, the report states officers began searching his vehicle.

Authorities found a black revolver “sitting on the driver floor board in plain view” and the officers also found $1,700 in cash in the backpack Fuller was accused of stealing.

According to the affidavit, the .357 Magnum Revolver Rossi had three rounds in it. Police also seized suspected marijuana and a pair of dice found in Fuller’s pockets.

Online records show that the 21-year-old is scheduled to appear next on June 17 in Faulkner County Circuit Court for a plea and arraignment hearing.