State’s death count tops 300, hospitalizations reach new high

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

By Scott Loftis

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Arkansas increased by 259 Tuesday — the smallest daily increase in more than a month — but that news was offset by a pair of grim milestones.

The nine new COVID-19 deaths reported Tuesday raised the state’s total to 301, and hospitalizations because of the virus saw their highest one-day increase since the pandemic began — rising by 32 to a record total of 369.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday in Little Rock, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he asked state health secretary Dr. Nate Smith to explain the sharp increase in hospitalizations.

“The answer is that’s a lagging indicator,” Hutchinson said.”If you remember the spike in cases we had a week ago, now we’re seeing some of the results of that in our increased hospitalizations.”

The new cases announced Tuesday brought the state’s total to 24,512 confirmed cases — an increase of 17.98 percent in a one-week period. Thirty-two Arkansans died from COVID-19 during that seven-day span, and hospitalizations increased by 27.2 percent.

Smith said the state’s number of active cases actually declined for the second consecutive day as the increase in the number of Arkansas who are now considered to have recovered from the virus exceeded the rise in newly confirmed cases.

Both Smith and Hutchinson acknowledged, however, that the dip in newly confirmed cases coincided with a decrease in testing.

“With two days of decreasing new cases, I should be happier than I am,” Smith said. “My joy at our lower number of new cases is modified due to the decreased testing that we saw over the weekend. This is just a function of fewer people collecting specimens over the holiday weekend. So our numbers in testing have been down in the 3,000s the last two days, but we expect those to pick up now that specimens are being collected again. We’ve got a lot of testing to do because we know we still do have transmission in the state.”

“The testing numbers were not as high as they have been, so that is sort of an asterisk,” Hutchinson said.

Twenty-six of the new cases reported Tuesday were in Benton County, with another 14 in Washington County.

As of Tuesday morning, the Arkansas Department of Health said there were a total of 195 confirmed cases in Carroll County, with 48 active cases, 142 recoveries and five deaths. While the county’s total cases increased by 27 from the previous week, active cases in the county dropped by seven.

Hutchinson said that while the rise in hospitalizations is a concern, he doesn’t believe there is a strain on hospitals’ capacity.

“Today we looked at that and while it’s a very large increase we had in hospitalizations, it looked steady in hospitals in Northwest Arkansas. Central Arkansas certainly has the capacity to handle that, and so the system is not stressed in that sense. … I don’t want to diminish the stress that is on the hospital workers. That is where the challenge is. That’s a lot of patients that they’re having to work with.”

On Friday, July 3, Hutchinson signed an executive order authorizing cities to adopt a model ordinance, drafted by the Arkansas Municipal League, to require face coverings in public.

During a news conference Monday, Hutchinson was asked about Arkansans’ behavior over the July 4 weekend.

“It’s easy to focus on those that were not compliant, that were not socially distancing,” he said. “Those get spread around on social media, but it is important to remember that so many, whether it’s a business or individuals, worked hard to protect themselves to protect others, wearing a mask and social distancing. So there’s a lot of good behavior over this weekend. But there is a concern … as to what this is going to result in a week from now and whether you’re going to see an increase in cases as a result of that. There was some behavior that was not good or helpful over the weekend. Whenever we can do something about that, we will. But to the largest extent, it is about individuals taking responsibility. As we fight this virus, I ask all Arkansas simply to do what you can. … Everybody has a role to play.”

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