COVID-19 has claimed its first two lives this week in the state of Arkansas.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the Arkansas Department of Health and other state officials confirmed the information during their daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday.

“Sadly, we have our first death from COVID-19,” Hutchinson announced. “Since that came about earlier today, we have another death.”

The report included the death of a 91-year-old man, who was being treated at Conway Regional Medical Center and died around 8 a.m., and another person in their 50s, but no further information was given.

In addition, the governor also said the number of confirmed positive cases had risen to 218 total but by 5:03 p.m. on Tuesday, the number had risen to 230.

Hutchinson said he’s had several meetings recently with hospitals, legislators, varying county officials, his public health care team and more. He said what everyone is saying is this is the “calm before the storm.”

“I know that many people don’t see this as a calm, but I think the way that is phrased makes us understand,” the governor said, noting it’s important to grasp that we’re still at the front end of this emergency.

Continuing the discussion of personal protective equipment, Hutchinson said Tuesday morning Arkansas received 24 pallets of gear from the national strategic stockpile, which included 27,800 N-95 masks and the order he placed in Arkansas including one million units, is scheduled to arrive this weekend, all of which will cover workers for the next 60 days at the current usage rate.

“This is good news for us,” he said. “What we are doing is preparing.”

Hutchinson said the pandemic has moved slower in Arkansas than other states, meaning we have time to prepare, which is what he and other state officials are doing.

In regards to the state budget he referenced in the Monday update and the special legislative session, Hutchinson said he hopes to get that started this Thursday to make sure Arkansas is able to continue to meet the essential needs of the state government during the current emergency health crisis.

During the conference, ADH’s Dr. Nate Smith spoke in regards to funerals. He said it’s important to remember our loved ones but it’s also crucial to recognize how easily the virus can pass from one to another.

“I think we need to think about ways we can honor the lives of our loved ones that doesn’t increase the spread of COVID-19,” he said, suggesting smaller, outside events now and possible memorials later after the risk is over.

ADH Medical Director for Immunizations Dr. Jennifer Dillaha also encouraged the public to take social distancing seriously, particularly young adults.

“It’s hard for many young people to stay away from their friends because our friends are very important to us but if they’re truly important it’s going to be important for us to use social distancing to protect ourselves as well as our friends and our families,” she said.

The University of Central Arkansas also released an update regarding COVID-19 from president Houston Davis on Tuesday.

On Sunday, UCA notified its faculty, staff and students about an employee that tested positive for coronavirus.

“During the last few days, our campus community has faced some significant challenges and changes as we adapt to the circumstances with COVID-19,” Davis wrote in the Tuesday update. “As you are aware from updates in the last couple of days from the Governor and the Arkansas Department of Health, we are likely still six to eight weeks from the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in Arkansas.

In preparation for that, he said UCA changed to online academic instruction for the remainder of the semester; instructed all employees to telecommute if able and have only allowed essential campus services to serve the small number of students that have remained on campus.

The president said çampus officials have decided to “take another step” in regards to keeping the campus community, city and state healthy by closing residence halls and other campus housing by March 29 through the end of the semester.

“For the approximately 450 students that have remained on campus for spring break, we are encouraging you to transition home if you can,” Davis said. “We know that not all of our students in housing have circumstances that allow them to go home.”

As a result, housing and residence life developed a process for students to document their need for continued housing through the end of the term and officials ensured those who must remain will have access to food, security and internet as well.

Davis said also address housing refunds due to changes and said UCA is working on a plan for refunds and/or account credits for students.

“I know this has been a challenging time for all of you, as the situation has changed rapidly and affected us all personally and professionally,” he said. “I have the deepest gratitude for our exceptional students, faculty, and staff and your unmatched perseverance as we adapt to a semester that looks like none we have ever seen.”

Staff writer Hilary Andrews can be reached at handrews@the

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