Grim milestone: State's death toll from virus tops 1,000

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

By Scott Loftis

The death toll from COVID-19 in Arkansas surpassed a grim milestone Tuesday, four days after the state recorded its highest single-day increase in confirmed cases.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday announced 17 additional deaths from the virus, bringing the state’s total to 1,003 since the pandemic began in mid-March. Nine Carroll County residents have died from COVID-19, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Two of those deaths have been reported in the past two weeks.

The death count will increase substantially, Hutchinson said, with the addition of 139 “probable” deaths. That number comprises individuals whose deaths certificates list COVID-19 as a contributing cause but who had not tested positive for the virus.

On Friday, Sept. 11, the ADH announced 1,104 newly confirmed cases — the highest single-day total of new cases since the pandemic began in mid-March. It was the second consecutive Friday to see a record number of new cases in the state.

New case counts declined over the next few days, with a total of 2,214 being reported from Saturday through Tuesday. That total includes 676 new cases that Hutchinson announced Tuesday.

“There is a little bit of a pattern, up some days and going down sequentially and then popping back up a little bit,” Hutchinson said. “So we’re trying to figure out that pattern in cases.”

Carroll County had a total of 553 confirmed and two probable cases as of Tuesday morning, according to the health department. That represented an increase of 52 total cases since Tuesday, Sept. 8. The county’s active case count had increased to 66 — up 19 from the previous Tuesday. Probable cases are based on positive antigen tests, which are considered less reliable than polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests.

More than half — 513 — of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the past six weeks after 490 were reported in more than four months from March 24 through Aug. 3.

Hutchinson said, however, that he doesn’t believe the state’s death rate is accelerating.

“I don’t have the sense that they’re accelerating, and that’s been a little bit of the frustrating part, that we’re adding deaths that should have been accounted for in the month of July or June or two weeks, and that’s throwing the daily number off,” he said. “So I’m frustrated by the system that has been changed by the CDC as to how you count these, but we’re trying to be very transparent in it. We’re concerned about every death, but I don’t see that that’s accelerating. It’s just simply that we are really accounting for deaths that have come in previously.”

Hutchinson said the state’s public schools have been faring well in efforts to avoid spreading the virus.

“I just want to express a lot of pride in our teachers, in our students, in our staff, administrators at our schools that have done so well in the start this year. Last year, we had 479,000 K through 12 public school students in Arkansas. So, if we have similar numbers this year, then that means we’ve had 574 active cases in our schools. That is less than two-tenths of a percent in terms of cases in our schools. That’s really a good start, shows they’re really following the guidelines and all really working hard to have a successful year.”

Hutchinson, who had been holding daily updates on COVID-19 since mid-March — with some exceptions on weekends and holidays — said last week that he will shift to weekly news conferences. Tuesday’s news conference was the first since Friday, Sept. 11.

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