Calm before the storm: Two Arkansans die from virus as cases in state exceed 200

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

By Scott Loftis

Two Arkansas residents have died from COVID-19 and the state now has more than 200 confirmed cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday.

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Arkansas Department of Health headquarters in Little Rock, Hutchinson said there were 218 confirmed cases of the virus in the state, an increase of 44 from the previous day’s total of 174.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of the virus in Carroll County.

Still, Hutchinson said Arkansas’ battle against COVID-19 is just beginning.

“In talking to my public health team, they said that what we’re seeing is the calm before the storm,” the governor said. “I know that many people don’t see this as a calm, but I think the way that is phrased makes us understand that we’re still on the lower end of the slope as it goes up. This needs to be understood by everybody in Arkansas, that we’re still on the front end of this COVID-19 emergency that we have in the state of Arkansas.”

Hutchinson said the state has received two allocations of personal protective equipment from the federal strategic stockpile. The second allocation, delivered Tuesday morning, included nearly 28,000 N95 masks.

“This is good news for us,” he said.

Hutchinson said another one million masks purchased by the state are expected to begin arriving this weekend.

“This will cover us for the next 60 days at our current usage rate,” he said. “Obviously, if the positive cases and the hospitalizations increase then the consumption rate and the usage will rise and that will last for a shorter period of time.”

During his Monday news conference, Hutchinson said he intended to call a special legislative session to address a projected $353 million shortfall in the state budget before the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30. That shortfall is the result of a decline in state revenue and the extension of the deadline for individual income tax payments.

Hutchinson said Monday that the deadline for filing and paying individual state tax returns has been extended to July 15, mirroring the new federal deadline. The deadline for corporate filers and estimated payments will remain April 15.

The state will use $173 million in reserve funds to avoid reducing budgets for departments including the Arkansas Department of Health, Hutchinson said.

The governor said the state is not planning any employee layoffs.

On Tuesday, Hutchinson said he would like the special session to begin Thursday.

“This is important to make sure that we can continue to meet the essential needs of state government during this emergency health crisis that we have,” the governor said.

Dr. Nate Smith, the state health secretary, said both of the deaths reported Tuesday occurred in central Arkansas. One victim was in their 50s, Smith said, while the other was older than 80. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Tuesday afternoon that a 91-year-old man died from the virus at a hospital in Conway.

On Monday, Smith announced that barber and beauty shops, nail salons, massage therapists and tattoo studios would be directed to temporarily cease operations.

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