State's case count continues to rise: Berryville hospital employee dies from COVID-19
By Scott Loftis
and Samantha Jones
An employee of Mercy hospital in Berryville has died of COVID-19, a source confirmed Monday.
In an email, Mercy spokeswoman Jennifer Cook identified the employee as John Cummings.
“Mercy is saddened by the death of our co-worker, John Cummings,” Cook’s email says. “We send our condolences to his family, friends and co-workers. We deeply appreciate John’s service to Mercy. Federal privacy laws prevent us from sharing other details about the care of any specific patient, including those patients who are our own co-workers.”
No further details were available regarding Cummings’ employment with Mercy.
On Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced 784 newly confirmed infections and 15 deaths over the last 24 hours in Arkansas. He said 526 Arkansas residents were hospitalized because of COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Altogether, 490 Arkansas residents have died from COVID-19, according to the state health department, including 62 in a seven-day period beginning Tuesday, July 28.
On Monday, Hutchinson said he had just gotten back from the first meeting of the High School Sports Advisory Committee, thanking the group for its work "looking at all the issues involved with high school sports this year and the importance of it." He said he looks forward to getting more information from the committee later in the week.
Hutchinson announced Friday, July 31, that Arkansas high school football teams could begin practicing in helmets Monday and can practice in helmets and pads starting Wednesday. High school volleyball teams in the state were also allowed to begin practicing Monday. Hutchison has asked the Arkansas Activities Association to submit a plan for proceeding with fall sports to the state health department.
Hutchinson also thanked agents with Alcohol Beverage Control for ensuring that businesses with alcohol permits are following the guidelines established by the Arkansas Department of Health. Hutchinson said it's been two weeks since he issued a mandate requiring the use of masks, saying he's grateful to all the businesses that have supported the mandate.
"I want to thank all the businesses that have supported us in that effort … to remind everyone that wearing a mask is important and is a great tool to reduce the spread of the virus."
Hutchinson announced that the state has acquired 100 BD Veritor Plus Analyzer tests, saying the plan is to assign the equipment to public health units to prioritize quick turnaround tests for those in the K-12 educational system.
"If there's a teacher, if there's a staff person, if there's a student that needs to have a quick test — they can go to the health unit to get a quick turnaround," Hutchinson said. "That will be something that will be useful."
The state's goal in August is to complete 200,000 tests, Hutchinson said, including 10,000 antigen tests.
"That gives us a total of 200,000 tests we can perform, which is much greater than 6 percent of our population," Hutchinson said. "We have to set aggressive goals to be able to achieve those and to make a difference."
Hutchinson said he received a call from Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend, saying Pence asked what the state needs.
"I said, 'We're counting on August to have the results we need from our commercial labs,' " Hutchinson said. "He said, 'We're going to work on that.' I appreciated his support."
Dr. Jose Romero, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Health, said Tuesday that 38,000 Arkansans are considered fully recovered from the virus.
Romero urged the public to get the influenza shot as soon as possible, saying it's unclear "what the confluence of influenza and COVID will be."
"We know there is a press on our emergency rooms during influenza season. One way to decompress that is to get people immunized against it," Romero said. "These individuals that develop severe influenza can become hospitalized, use intensive care beds and may require ventilators which we will need to use for COVID."
Romero added, "This disease is preventable. We can do it. The vaccine is safe. It does not cause disease."
Hutchinson answered questions Monday about reopening schools, saying the state is giving parents options.
"Parents have the option of going all virtual this year in the school districts. They have the option of starting in the classroom," Hutchinson said. "If we have to go to a blended environment, we will. I think that's the right plan for Arkansas. I understand there's a different message coming out nationally, but our educators … they're ready to start school and I think that's the right way to do it."
When asked if there's a specific number of cases that would give him pause about going forward as planned, Hutchinson said the state has a "good plan in terms of what our expectations are … in terms of giving flexibility to the local districts."
"It's difficult for a state like Arkansas to say, 'We'll open here and there and others will be virtual,' " Hutchinson said. "I want our state to be able to move, at least in the beginning, altogether in classroom instruction. We'll adjust with the circumstances we find ourselves in."
Hutchinson said he gets "tons of admonitions from classroom teachers."
"I get every viewpoint imaginable and identify with concerns they have," Hutchinson said. "Everybody that goes to work in this environment has concerns. That's why we want to put in safety precautions. Yes, I do listen to the teachers. I'm not that hard to get a hold of."