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.