LITTLE ROCK — A plan for reopening swimming pools and similar facilities was announced at Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Friday COVID-19 response news briefing. The governor also presented an update on resources for reopening businesses, expansion of access to elective surgery, testing and testing data information and a statewide flyover taking place Saturday.
The governor was joined by Secretary, Arkansas Department of Health Dr. Nate Smith, as well as Economic Recovery Task Force Chair Steuart Walton and UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson.
Arkansas had 3,747 COVID-19 cases recorded Friday afternoon, up 82 from Thursday. Of those 82, 12 are from Cummins prison. Sixty four in the state are hospitalized due to COVID-19, down six from Thursday, with 14 on ventilators, that number unchanged. Eighty-eight people have died from the disease, that number also unchanged since Thursday.
Forty-eight nursing homes in the state have at least one infected client or staff member. Of those groups, 270 residents are infected, up four from Thursday, and 160 staff are infected, up five.
As of Friday, 896 in Cummins Prison were infected, that number up 10 since Thursday, with 60 staff infected, up six from Thursday. No information was presented on infections and the federal correctional facility in Forrest City, but that is expected to be updated “in the next few days,” Smith said.
Recoveries from COVID-19 are currently 2,968, up 101 since the Thursday report. Two thousand three hundred and fifty five tests have been given since Thursday, with a 2.1 percent positive infection indication. Friday was the second consecutive day testing was more than 2,000. The overall testing infection rate has been 5.8 percent.
The overall number of cases and hospitalizations over a seven day running average show a decline, although there has been a slight uptick in infections detected in the past few days. This was expected, the governor said, in light of efforts to increase the amount of testing in the state.
The governor announced earlier this week an initiative in Arkansas to have 60,000 COVID-19 tests made by the end of May, representing 2 percent of Arkansas’ population. Smith said this 2 percent goal was based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Hutchinson announced guidelines for the May 22 reopening of swimming pools, splash pads, water parks and swim beaches. Reopening requires meeting the following criteria:
No entry if fever, symptoms or contact with a positive patient
50 percent capacity
Six foot physical distancing in all areas
If needed, fewer entrances so overcrowding can be controlled
Markings to note distancing at slides, diving boards, anywhere with a line
Disinfect high touch areas frequently
Tables, chairs moved six feet apart; family groups can sit together
Maintain pool chemistry with twice-daily Ph testing
Lifeguard training can begin Saturday
Hutchinson said the lifeguard training was included, because under these guidelines lifeguards would have the additional duty of assuring public health guidelines are being met such as social distancing.
Walton, along with the governor, announced the Arkansas Ready for Business website, at arkready.com, as an outlet for “businesses, customers, managers and owners of enterprises across Arkansas” who need information on requirements for opening and resources, such as sources for PPE.
The website went online Friday and will continue to be updated, Walton said. Social media tags for the website may be found under “Arkansas Ready.”
Walton stressed the continued importance of complying with public health guidelines for all business owners in order to prevent any avoidable uptick in infections which would slow the reopening process in the state. The economic recovery task force will continue to stress compliance with guidelines, including social distancing and wearing masks, he said.
Smith said that effective Monday, a further relaxing of the restrictions on elective surgeries would begin. Currently, elective surgeries are only permitted for non overnight stay patients, beginning Monday surgeries which require up to a 48 hour hospital stay will be permitted. Further the to-date restrictions on patient types which allowed only Category 1 patients, those with no additional complications as classified by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, will be broadened Monday to allow Type 2, 3 and 4 patients.
A Category 4 patient is one with “A patient with severe systemic disease that is a constant threat to life“ per the society’s website.
The requirement for testing of all surgery patients for COVID-19 is one of the factors which will lead to an expected increase in testing in the state, Hutchinson said. Additional extension of the testing regime past those with COVID-19 symptoms will be through the testing of expectant mothers, expected to represent 1,500 additional tests in May, as well as the provisions now being in place to allow the use of the Abbott testing machine, touted at an earlier news conference.
Additional testing will be made with the addition of the Arkansas Department of Health’s Minority Health Commission Mobile Lab which will be testing in minority communities throughout the state, the governor said. This is expected to add 400 tests to the May testing total.
Patterson said the UAMS mobile lab will be traveling to communities identified as having an above average increase in infections in the state “where resources are not readily available.”
Next week the lab will travel to Forrest City, Dumas, Brinkley and then Hot Springs. Forrest City has seen an increase in case numbers due to the number of people in the community who work in the prison, he said.
Patterson said recent testing has returned an overall positivity rate of below 10 percent for those tested, showing an overall decrease.
Hutchinson had presented that a below 10 percent rate was the goal cited by the World Health Organization.
Walton presented that a statewide flyover of WWII vintage airplanes would take place across the state Saturday. The planes will take off from Little Rock and fly a loop around the state, as a salute to health care workers.
Walton, a pilot, will participate in the flyover.