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Arkansas case total climbs by 771; deaths rise by 4

by Rachel Herzog | July 19, 2020 at 7:33 a.m.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes covid-19.

Arkansas reported 771 new coronavirus cases and four more deaths Saturday, according to the state Department of Health.

The state’s cumulative count of cases is now 32,533, with a total of 25,292 people having met the state’s qualifications for recovery. The number of active cases increased by 251, to 6,884. The total number of deaths is 357.

The number of hospitalizations was 453 as of about noon Saturday, Dr. Joel Tumlison with the Department of Health said in a phone interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

There were 97 coronavirus patients on ventilators, Tumlison said, and 124 patients in intensive care units across the state. The total number of intensive care beds in the state is 981, with 156 currently available, he added.

Saturday saw 15 new cases in correctional facilities, bringing the number of active cases in those facilities to 1,024, Tumlison said. As of Saturday, there were a total of 18 deaths related to correctional facilities and 112 linked to nursing homes.

The two counties with the highest number of new cases are in Northwest Arkansas. Washington County had the most new cases, with its total rising by 146 to 5,059. Benton County followed with 90 new cases for a total of 3,789. Tumlison said both counties have hosted daylong drive-thru testing events recently.

Pulaski County had 81 new cases for a total of 3,578, and Sebastian County had 54 new cases for a total of 1,102.

But Hot Spring County leads the nation in the number of confirmed new cases per capita in the past two weeks, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. On Saturday, the number of cases there was 1,344, up five from the day before, the Department of Health reported.

Most of those cases are inmates at a prison in Malvern, according to a Department of Health report from last week. As of Friday, the Ouachita River Correctional facility had 1,228 inmates and 48 workers test positive. There were 436 inmates who were considered recovered and 15 staff members. Three inmates or workers at the unit had died, the report said.

A total of 419,171 tests had been conducted in Arkansas as of Saturday, according to the Health Department. The agency hosted testing events in North Little Rock and Ozark in Franklin County on Friday. Department spokesman Gavin Lesnick said the agency tested 391 people in North Little Rock; a total for Ozark was not available Saturday evening.

Tumlison said the data shows that the active cases aren’t evenly distributed geographically, but they are all over the state.

“You can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s over there, we don’t have to worry about it,’” he said. “The cases are not evenly spread throughout the state, but they are spread around.”

He said he hopes that people will pay attention to the mask order issued by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, which takes effect Monday.

The executive order requires every person in Arkansas to wear a face covering completely over their mouth and nose in all indoor and outdoor environments, excluding private homes, where they are exposed to nonhousehold members and cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing.

“That could really help decrease transmission,” Tumlison said.

People can purchase face coverings with an American Society for Testing and Materials rating of at least Level 1, or use a homemade mask with at least two layers of material, according to a Health Department directive released Saturday.

The directive also points Arkansans to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on wearing face coverings. Previously issued state directives regarding particular activities and venues remain in place.

Tumlison emphasized that moving activities outdoors doesn’t eliminate risk, and masks should be worn if social distance might not be maintained.

“There’s kind of this perception that if I’m outside, well, I don’t need a mask,” he said. “If you’re in public, and you’re around people other than your family members, you need to wear it.”

According to Friday’s report on active cases from the Department of Health, 101 of the people infected had visited restaurants within two weeks of being diagnosed. Seven had visited bars, 27 had gone to barbershops, 54 had gone to church, 20 had gone to day care centers, 13 had gone to gyms, 63 had visited health care offices and 27 had visited hotels or motels.

There were 398 active cases at poultry plants in the state as of Friday, according to the active cases report.

The largest occupational cluster was at OK Foods in Fort Smith, which had 35 active cases Friday. Tyson facilities on Berry Street in Springdale and in Clarksville each had 28 active cases. There were also eight cases at a Tyson plant on Randall Road in Springdale.

The Department of Health also reported occupational clusters at three nonpoultry businesses. As of Friday, there were 20 active cases at ConAgra in Russellville, 10 at Evergreen Packaging in Pine Bluff, and five at Adams Fertilizer Equipment in DeWitt.

Joyah Flemister, 38, who died from covid-19 Thursday according to a coroner’s report, worked at the Tyson plant in Pine Bluff, but her grandmother said she did not know if that was where she contracted the virus.

Bessie Bennett said her granddaughter did not know she had contracted covid-19 until she was admitted to the hospital for treatment of high blood sugar July 11.

Bennett said Flemister’s preexisting conditions, which included diabetes and hypertension, likely resulted in covid-19 taking a much harder toll on her body. The Jefferson County coroner’s report listed the cause of death as cardiorespiratory arrest and covid-19, and said she died in the intensive care unit at Jefferson Regional Medical Center.

Bennett said her granddaughter’s name — Joyah — fit her, because she was a joy to be around and was always giving away baked goods and helping take care of her friends’ children as if they were her own.

She said her granddaughter was her “traveling buddy” for road trips to visit relatives in places such as Texas, Mississippi and Memphis. Together with Flemister’s mother, who died in July 2019, they were known to friends and family as “the three amigos” because they were always together. They enjoyed shopping, going to the casino, and having dinners and get-togethers at Bennett’s house.

“She really cared about people, and she always met people with a smile and would do anything she could to help them,” Bennett said. “She was a big-hearted person. … Everybody seemed to love her. She always greeted people with a smile even when she wasn’t feeling like smiling.”


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