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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Nate Smith, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, shows statistics on the covid-19 outbreak at Little Rock on Monday. More photos at (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

[TUESDAY UPDATE: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 1,480, up five from the previous day's reported total, according to the state Department of Health on Tuesday. Read more here »]

The deaths of three more Arkansans from covid-19 were announced by state officials Monday as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus hit a new one-day high in the state.

At his daily news conference on the pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of an advisory panel, made up of physicians and led by the state Department of Health secretary, that will study how to eventually lift restrictions on social interaction without causing a second wave of infection.

"The future is about figuring out what we do when we are confident that we're at the peak [of new cases] and on the downward side of that slope," Hutchinson said.

From Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon, 130 Arkansans tested positive for the virus, raising the state total to 1,410 cases and setting a high for new cases in the state in a 24-hour period. The state's death toll rose to 30.

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But by Monday evening, the state's number of cases rose to 1,475.

Health Secretary Nate Smith said many of the new cases were associated with outbreaks in state and federal prisons.

At the state's Cummins Unit in Lincoln County, for instance, 44 inmates tested positive. The first case there was announced Sunday.

At the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest City, 41 inmates in the low-security unit tested positive as of Monday afternoon, up from 26 on Friday afternoon.

The number of confirmed cases remained the same, at four, among inmates in the medium-security unit and at four among staff members.

"These are high-risk settings where covid-19 can spread very easily, very rapidly, but they're also closed systems and they don't necessarily represent the situation in Arkansas in general," Smith said. Covid-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Health Department focused its recent testing on those outbreaks, and 67 of the 94 tests it conducted over the past day came back positive.

By contrast, just 2.9% of the 883 commercial lab results the state received and 5.7% of the tests performed by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences were positive during the same period, Smith said.


Hutchinson said the number of hospitalized Arkansans, and the number of new hospital admissions each day, appeared to be leveling off.

As of Monday afternoon, 74 Arkansans were hospitalized, including eight newly admitted, Smith said. That was down from a peak of 86 hospitalized as of Friday afternoon.

The number of patients on a ventilator Monday fell by one from the previous afternoon, to 28.

Hutchinson also pointed to continually revised projections from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation as further evidence that the state's efforts to slow the spread of the virus are working.

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In March, the institute forecast that hospitalizations in Arkansas would peak at more than 2,100 on April 25.

The latest forecast, on Monday, estimated the peak would be much smaller, with just 157 people hospitalized, and happen a week later, on May 2.

"As you flatten the number of cases that you have, and reduce the increase, then you're going to extend the peak time period, which is the objective that we had," Hutchinson said.

The institute's forecast number of covid-19 deaths in Arkansas has also fallen, from 705 in March to 195 in Monday's update.

Despite discussion on Sunday talk shows about easing restrictions in parts of the country, however, Hutchinson said, "It's not time to let up" in Arkansas.

"It's not a time to decrease our intensity on social distancing, on avoiding the gatherings of more than 10, and also on wearing face masks when you cannot appropriately social distance," Hutchinson said.

Restrictions the state has imposed so far have included closing public schools; limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery; closing movie theaters, hair salons, gyms and other close-contact businesses; and prohibiting indoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

Smith said the Health Department also will be issuing guidance for summer camps, which he said could provide a dangerous setting for the virus to spread.

"Although there's a big difference between summer camp and a max-security unit, to the covid-19 virus, there's not that much of a difference," he said.


Reports from the Pulaski County coroner's office identify two Arkansans who died of covid-19 Sunday as Larry Earnhart, 76, of Mayflower and Eddie Tank, 64, of Mabelvale.

Earnhart's wife, Dana, said her husband, an Army veteran and retired bricklayer, had been in hospice care at the couple's home after being diagnosed with a lung disease more than a month ago.

According to the coroner's report, he had been at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock as recently as Wednesday, and he returned to the hospital Saturday after his condition worsened. A test that day came back positive for covid-19.

"He died on Easter of all things," Dana Earnhart said.

She said her husband, who had three children and two stepchildren, "got saved" after they were married about six years ago, and had recently become Sunday school superintendent at First United Pentecostal Church in Conway.

Before he died, "he made a few calls to thank people that was special in his life," she said.

"He was old-fashioned, very old-fashioned gentleman," she said. "He was one that still opened the car doors -- ladies first."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed that a patient in his or her 70s died of complications from covid-19 at the hospital Sunday.

Others under VA care have also tested positive, Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System spokesman Chris Durney said.

"We have some [covid-19]-positive veterans in isolation and they are being treated very well," Durney said. "All staff in treatment areas have proper [equipment]."

Durney did not give a specific number of patients who have tested positive. There are two local VA hospitals in the Little Rock area -- John L. McClellan Memorial and the Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center in North Little Rock.

Tank, who had a history of high blood pressure, was admitted to Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock on Saturday after becoming unresponsive and going into cardiac arrest, according to a coroner's report. He died Sunday morning.

At the daily news conference, health officials announce how many people have died since the previous day, but don't identify them. Those details come from other sources, sometimes days after their deaths.

Of the 30 Arkansans who have died, 10 were residents of Pulaski County, four each were from Jefferson and Cleburne counties, two each from Crittenden, Faulkner and Van Buren counties, and one each from Conway, Drew, Hempstead, Lawrence, Phillips and Saline counties.

Six were nursing home residents -- three at Briarwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Little Rock, two at Willowbend Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Marion and one at Walnut Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.


The cases reported since Sunday included the first one in Little River County. That left just four of the state's 75 counties -- Calhoun, Fulton, Jackson and Montgomery -- with no residents who were reported to have tested positive as of Monday evening.

The cases increased by 28, to 284, in Pulaski County.

Crittenden, Jefferson and Garland County each topped 100 cases Monday. With an increase of 22 cases, to 115, Crittenden overtook Jefferson as the county with the second-highest total.

The number increased by eight, to 103, in Jefferson County, and by 21, to 102, in Garland County

The total number who tested positive as of Monday afternoon included 84 nursing home residents and 193 health care workers.

A Health Department report also listed eight patients and one worker at the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock and three staff members at the Johnson County jail in Clarksville as of Sunday afternoon.

The number of people listed as having recovered -- meaning at least a week has passed since they fell ill and they haven't had a fever for at least three days -- increased by 60, to 427.

The virus emerged late last year in Wuhan, China, and spreads through respiratory droplets emitted when people sneeze, cough or talk. Studies have indicated that the virus can live for days on surfaces.

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. The elderly and people with chronic health conditions are considered most at risk of severe illness, including pneumonia.

In addition to Smith, the doctors Hutchinson named to the medical advisory committee are:

Gallery: Daily Covid-19 briefing at capitol

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Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe; Jose Romero, chief medical officer at the Health Department and chief of pediatric infectious disease at UAMS and Arkansas Children's Hospital; Naveen Patil, medical director for infectious diseases at the Health Department; State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha; Austin Porter, chief science officer at the Health Department and an assistant professor at the UAMS College of Public Health; Jerrilyn Jones, medical director for preparedness and response at the Health Department and associate professor of emergency medicine at UAMS; and Sam Greenfield, medical director for family health at the Health Department and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UAMS.

Information for this story was contributed by Tony Holt and Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

CORRECTION: Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe was one of the physicians whom Gov. Asa Hutchinson named Monday to a medical advisory board that will study how to lift restrictions on social interaction in the state without causing a second wave of coronavirus infection. An earlier version of this story omitted Bledsoe from the list of advisory board members.

A Section on 04/14/2020


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