More than 500 Arkansans hospitalized as cumulative case count tops 40,000

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

By Scott Loftis

More than 40,000 Arkansas residents have now tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference in Little Rock, Hutchinson said 734 Arkansans had tested positive in the previous 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 40,181. Hutchinson announced an additional 20 deaths from the virus, increasing the state’s total to 428. Dr. Jose Romero, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Health, later clarified that six of the deaths announced Tuesday were “late reporting.”

The number of Arkansans hospitalized because of COVID-19 topped 500 for the first time Tuesday. Hutchinson said hospitalizations were up by 12 from a day earlier, to 501.

“These are not good numbers,” Hutchinson said. “Whenever we’ve gone over the 40,000 mark cumulative in terms of our total cases, when we’ve gone over 500 in our current hospitalizations, these are both high-water numbers for us, and of course having an increase of 20 in terms of our deaths is not good news as well.”

Hutchinson said 11 counties had more than 20 new cases Tuesday. Benton County had the second-highest number of new cases with 50, while Washington County tied for fourth with 45 new cases.

As of Tuesday morning, the state health department reported that Carroll County had 325 total cases, with 61 active cases, 258 recovered and six deaths. Although the county’s total case count increased by 34 from a week earlier, the number of active cases declined by five.

Carroll County Judge Sam Barr, whose Facebook page announced on July 17 that he had tested positive for the virus, returned to work Monday, the page said.

Romero said there were 6,565 active cases in the state as of Tuesday afternoon, although the state has reported 6,953 cases over the past nine days.

Asked about the state’s guidelines for designating a case as recovered, Romero said:

“That means that they have moved past the period of isolation, they are off the period. Now, those periods change depending on how severe the infection is. So it can be anywhere from 10 to 20 days.”

Asked whether the state continues to monitor individuals designated as recovered, Romero said: “No, we do not follow them after that period of time.”

Hutchinson defended his decision to issue an executive order on July 16 requiring the wearing of face coverings in public. He said he did not want to issue a “mask mandate” but felt he had to do so.

“When you see the cases go up, the hospitalizations go up, what’s happening with our healthcare workers, the pressure that they’re under, it was a decision that had to be made,” Hutchinson said. “And so it’s just simply the responsibility of the chief executive, the governor of this state, to have to make some of those tough decisions and to be held accountable for them. But I hope everybody sees that we do not issue restrictions on businesses lightly. We resisted the stay-at-home order, we resisted shutting down businesses, and when we could, we lifted the restrictions. So, it’s a matter of balancing the priority on public health and getting a handle on the cases and the deaths that we see from the virus with the independent spirit of Arkansans and the freedom that they experience.”

Hutchinson was asked about recent criticism from State Sen. Bob Ballinger, whose district includes most of Carroll County. Ballinger recently posted a Facebook video in which he said “I think we’re at a point now where peaceful non-compliance would be appropriate.”

Ballinger later shared the video on a separate Facebook page, writing: “Liberty lost is seldom reacquired without violence. It’s time that citizens take control of their government.”

“I don’t think it’s the time to take up arms, and I certainly hope that’s not what the senator expressed,” Hutchinson said. “I think that’s an adage that has been expressed in times past, during the times of the American Revolution. But … Arkansans are doing the right thing. We see great levels of compliance. We would like to see more. As someone said, if you want to have school this year, if you want to have sports this year, the best thing we can do is to wear a mask, to socially distance, to protect others and protect ourselves, and to make sure that we don’t add to that spread. … By and large that’s what I believe Arkansans understand and want to support.”

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