Unemployment claims in state likely to hit 150,000 by week's end, official says; virus cases at 1,077

Positive coronavirus cases in Arkansas have reached 1,077, according to figures released Wednesday evening by the state Department of Health.

The number of cases passed 1,000 Wednesday morning.

3:03 p.m.: Unemployment claims in state likely to hit 150,000 by week's end, official says; virus cases top 1,000

State officials expect unemployment insurance claims to reach 150,000 by the end of the week, but gig economy workers and freelancers affected by the coronavirus outbreak will need to wait at least three weeks before the state will be able to accept their applications.

Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said the state’s system for unemployment claims isn’t built to serve such workers, who are newly eligible for benefits called pandemic unemployment assistance under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The state must create a new system to process these claims, Preston said, and that is expected to take at least three weeks.

He said backpay of benefits will be available once the system is running and asked workers who fall into the category not to apply until the new system is created.

Preston said staff have also been added to process typical unemployment claims in a bid to cut down on the wait times to apply and receive benefits.

At the same news conference, Health Secretary Nate Smith said there are 1,023 cases of covid-19 in Arkansas. Deaths remained at 18, while recoveries increased to 208.

Of all cases, 24 are children, 69 are adults 18-24, 310 are adults 25-44, 368 are adults 45-64 and 252 are adults 65 and older, Smith said.

Smith said 76 patients are hospitalized, including 30 on ventilators.

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Healthcare workers account for 147 cases while nursing home residents account for 68.

No new cases have been reported at the federal prison in Forrest City, where 18 inmates and 4 workers were positive as of Tuesday, but Smith said additional individuals are symptomatic and are being tested.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention personnel are at the facility to work on containment.

For the first time, Smith released racial data on those who have died of covid-19 in Arkansas.

He said four of the 18 who have died, or 22.2%, were black while the other 14, or 77.8%, were white.

Smith said of all covid-19 cases in state, 23.5% are black, 66.7% are white and 1.5% are Asian. He did not say the races of the remaining 8.3%.

Four of those who died were adults between the ages of 19 and 64 while the rest were adults 65 and older, Smith said.

Hutchinson was again asked about whether the state’s directive to temporarily stop some medical procedures includes stopping abortions.

Hutchinson answered by saying Arkansas' temporary restrictions on abortion facilities are similar to those adopted in Texas.

The Texas law bans "nonessential" medical procedures due to the covid-19 emergency. That umbrella includes abortions that aren't necessary to protect the mother's life or health, officials there have said.

That restriction was upheld this week by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel. Abortion providers want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, arguing it is an unconstitutional infringement of abortion rights.

On March 30, the Arkansas Department of Health sent a "guidance letter" to the state's health facilities, including abortion clinics, addressing "elective" procedures.

"Procedures, testing, and office visits that can be safely postponed shall be rescheduled to an appropriate future date," the department states on its website.

During Wednesday's news conference, Hutchinson expressed concern that people are coming from out of state to obtain abortion services in Central Arkansas, raising the risk of coronavirus infection. The matter is under review, he told reporters.

— Nyssa Kruse and Frank Lockwood


The number of positive coronavirus cases reported in Arkansas hit 1,000 Wednesday morning, according to data from the state Health Department.

The number of deaths remained at 18, while 201 people have recovered, the agency reports.

A total of 14,530 tests for covid-19 have been done so far in the state.

Arkansas’ first presumptive case of covid-19 was detected in a Pine Bluff patient March 11. The first two deaths from the illness were reported March 24.

[VIRUS TRACKER: Click here to explore county-by-county figures » arkansasonline.com/arvirus]

The latest deaths from the virus occurred Monday at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, according to coroner reports.

Rodney Cottrell, 84, died at 10:45 a.m. and Shelley York, 69, died just after 8 p.m.

Cottrell was from The Woodlands, Texas, and Little Rock, according to his obituary. He was diagnosed with covid-19 on March 27, according to the coroner's office.

York, a North Little Rock resident, tested positive for covid-19 after being admitted to the hospital on March 25 with shortness of breath, according to his death report.

— Nyssa Kruse

Andy Davis contributed to this story.