An Arkansas website created to process unemployment claims for gig economy workers, independent contractors and the self-employed was back up and running Wednesday, after having been shuttered for several days by state officials because of security concerns.
Meanwhile, rules allowing day camps to go forward this summer were posted to a state website as the total number of coronavirus cases in the state topped 5,000 and the death toll rose by five, to 107.
All but one of the recent deaths were of nursing-home residents, Department of Health Secretary Nate Smith said.
Alisha Curtis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, confirmed that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance website -- pua.arkansas.gov -- was again available for Arkansans to begin filing claims.
The website was shut down Friday, after state officials said that applicants' private information had been accidentally exposed.
Officials did not say what changes were made to the website to protect the security of applicants' information.
When pressed about the security issue on Monday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said that a computer programmer had "exploited" a vulnerability of the website, though the governor later clarified that he used the term to describe someone being able to see another person's data.
The Arkansas Times has reported that the programmer was an applicant to the website who attempted to alert state officials to the website malfunction.
The FBI is investigating the matter and will determine whether the programmer violated any laws, Hutchinson said.
In a statement Wednesday, the Commerce Department's Division of Workforce Services said it had notified some applicants whose claims were submitted before the site was taken down that they have been given interim approval to receive benefits and that they can begin the next step of filing weekly claims.
Those initial claims, with a weekly benefit of $732, are expected to be processed by the end of the week, according to the release. Formal approvals, and the possibility of a higher benefit, will come later.
"We are dedicated to getting Arkansans the unemployment benefits they have earned," said Charisse Childers, director of the Division of Workforce Services, in a statement. "We will continue to notify applicants as soon as approvals are determined and will remain in contact throughout the process."
Filing a weekly claim does not require applicants to submit personal identification or financial information, according to the release.
DAY CAMP RULES POSTED
The Health Department rules for day camps, dated Monday but not posted to the department's website until Wednesday, say, "All efforts should be made to limit the congregation of children," with classes limited to up to 10 children.Gallery: Daily COVID-19 Briefing 5-20-20
Staff members, as well as children 10 and older, should wear cloth face coverings except while exercising, the rules say.
"For safety reasons, under no circumstances should a mask be placed on a child under 2 years of age," the rules say.
Children older than that but younger than 10 are "encouraged" to wear masks if they are able to consistently do so, the rules say.
The rules require children to be served individual meals and snacks, prohibit "family style meals," and say that meals should take place in classrooms if possible.
Communal areas such as dining halls and playgrounds should be closed "if possible," the rules say. Otherwise, their use should be staggered, and they should be disinfected between uses.
Playground equipment and other objects that are frequently touched should be disinfected between uses "or at least frequently throughout the day," the rules say.
Similar rules have been issued for restaurants, barbershops and other businesses under the state's first phase of lifting restrictions that were imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The rules posted Wednesday apply to activities such as Bible schools, band camps and art camps.
Hutchinson had planned to announce the rules for day camps, as well as rules on team sports, on Wednesday, but instead was meeting at the White House with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Hutchinson is expected to make an announcement today about the state's plans for allowing team sports, sports camps and summer camps involving overnight stays, Smith said.
TESTS SET RECORD
Smith said the state on Tuesday received results from 4,396 coronavirus tests, setting a one-day record for the second day in a row.
He called that a sign that the state's campaign to increase testing is working.
"We've been been emphasizing this for quite some time, and I think all the pieces are starting to come together," Smith said.
The state's official count of coronavirus cases increased by 80, to 5,003.
That total did not include all of the cases among inmates from an outbreak at the Federal Correctional Complex in Forrest City.
Smith said the number of inmates who have tested positive there increased by 24, to 609. Seventeen staff members and one contractor at the prison also have tested positive, he said.
Cases from such outbreaks are added to the statewide tally of all cases as information from laboratory reports are entered into a state database, a process that often takes several days.
No new cases were reported at two state prisons -- the Cummins Unit in Lincoln County and the Randall L. Williams Unit in Pine Bluff -- that also have had outbreaks.
Of the cases that were added to the statewide total Wednesday, only one was a prison inmate.
The number of cases in the state's total that were considered active, meaning the person had tested positive but had not died or recovered, fell by 38, to 1,044.
That included a decrease of 54 active cases, to 315, among prison inmates in the tally. Meanwhile, active cases rose by two, to 85, among nursing-home residents.
Among residents outside of those settings, the number of active cases rose by 14, to 644.
The state's total number of active cases has been mostly rising since May 8 but remains below a peak of 1,466 on April 25, according to the Health Department.
The number of Arkansans who were hospitalized with covid-19 rose by one, to 79, while the number who were on ventilators increased by two, to 16.
CHURCH OUTBREAK REVIEWED
The outbreak of the virus at a Greers Ferry church in March was highlighted in a report this week recommending that faith-based organizations work with health officials in implementing government guidelines for resuming activities.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette first reported on the outbreak at Greers Ferry Assembly of God on March 24, after 34 cases of the virus were linked to activities held March 6-8 at a church.
Since the first known case of the virus in the state was identified March 11, Cleburne County has reported 73 cases and four deaths.
The county had just one active case as of Wednesday, however.
According to the case study by state Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials, published Tuesday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 94 people attended events at the church March 6-11, and 35 of them were later confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus.
Three died of the virus. One person who reported having contact with an attendee of the church also died.
Of those who attended church events and later tested positive, just two were children. Fourteen were 65 or older.
Contact tracing identified at least 26 people in the community who developed covid-19 who had been in contact with people who had attended the church "and were likely infected by them," including the one who later died, according to the report.
"This outbreak highlights the potential for widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, both at group gatherings during church events and within the broader community," the report stated. "These findings underscore the opportunity for faith-based organizations to prevent COVID-19 by following local authorities' guidance and the U.S. Government's Guidelines: Opening Up America Again ... regarding modification of activities to prevent virus transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic."
According to news reports, draft CDC guidance documents for reopening the economy included recommendations for places of worship, but those were not included in the final documents released over the weekend.
A May 4 guidance document from the Arkansas Health Department recommends that places of worship take a number of precautions, including requiring face coverings by congregants over age 10 except while they are performing, addressing the congregation or taking communion.
A previous directive, dated March 26, had prohibited indoor gatherings of more than 10 in the state but exempted places of worship as well as businesses and certain other entities.
WEB PAGE REVAMPED
Of the nonprisoner cases that were added to the state's total Wednesday, 10 were Pulaski County residents and nine were in Crittenden County, Smith said.
Yell and Benton counties had seven new cases each, while Craighead County had six.
Smith also unveiled a revamped map of Health Department data on a state website, now offering more detailed county-level and demographic data about the spread of the virus in Arkansas.
The coronavirus page on the Health Department's website, healthy.arkansas.gov, includes a link to the map.
The map shows that 19 of the state's counties have no active cases, down from 30 listed on a map provided by the Health Department a week earlier.
Over that span, Jefferson County had the largest increase in active cases, from 89, to 267, at least in partly because of the outbreak at the Randall L. Williams Unit.
Yell County, which had no active cases a week earlier, was listed Wednesday as having 31.
A Health Department report provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday shows that infections have been reported among 14 Nebo Poultry workers in in Dardanelle, in Yell County, and Russellville. All of those cases were reported as being active.
Washington County had the next-largest increase in active cases from a week earlier, from 18 to 47.
The number increased by 24, to 42 in Union County and by the same number, to 32, in Pope County.
The number went up by 21, to 43, in Benton County; by 17 to 29, in Sevier County; by 13, to 47, in Craighead County; by 12, to 30, in Sharp County; and by 11, to 40, in Crittenden County.
Pulaski County had the second-highest number of active cases -- 109. That was one fewer than it had a week earlier.
'IT ALL HAPPENED SO FAST'
Among the Arkansans who died of the virus most recently was Rafeeq "Freddie" Ali, 69, of Russellville.
He died Tuesday in the intensive-care unit at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock.
Ali, whose medical history included active septicemia, hypertension and pneumonia, had been hospitalized for the virus since April 16, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.
His daughter, Anisha Ali, said her father didn't even feel the symptoms of the virus at first.
"He woke up one morning and felt very weak, so my mom called the ambulance," Anisha Ali said. "It all happened so fast that we could hardly knew what happened.
"He held on since April and fought really hard, but he just couldn't do it. It was the most painful thing in the world to ever go through."
Anisha Ali said she was very grateful for the care her father received at St. Mary's Regional Health System in Russellville, where her father was first treated before being transferred to Little Rock.
"Dr. [Jeremiah] Rutherford is the best doctor in the world," she said. "Even after my father left their hospital to go to Little Rock, Dr. Rutherford reached out to me over and over again. He and the nursing staff did a great job. I really love this hospital. I thank them from the bottom of my heart."
She said her father was someone who made others laugh often and that he "never hurt another human being."
"He never has said one bad thing about anybody," she said. "I don't think this was fair at all."
The deaths added to the state's official count on Wednesday included three Pulaski County residents, raising the county's deaths from the virus to 28.
The virus deaths also included the 21st of a resident of Jefferson County and eighth from Crittenden County.
Although Smith didn't provide details about the nursing-home residents who died, Health Department reports indicate that the deaths of 12 residents of The Waters of White Hall had been linked to the virus as of Wednesday, up from 10 on Monday.
An additional death was also reported at Willowbend Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Marion, raising the total number of virus deaths at that home to four.
The Lakes of Maumelle Health and Rehabilitation was listed as having eight resident deaths from the virus, an increase of one from a day earlier.
A Health Department report also shows the state's cases include a worker at the state Veterans Home in North Little Rock, making it the 56th nursing-home or assisted-living facility in the state where a worker or resident has tested positive.
Including the 44 residents of facilities in the state who have died from the virus, the number of nursing-home or assisted-living facility residents who have tested positive increased by five on Wednesday, to 372, while the number of infections among workers increased by six, to 195.
Information for this article was contributed by Jeannie Roberts and Francisca Jones of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 05/21/2020
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