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Arkansas reports rise of 163 virus cases

Hutchinson touts ‘warning system,’ notes ‘second peak’ of infections by Rachel Herzog | May 24, 2020 at 7:50 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson gives the breakdown of new cases of covid-19 during the daily covid-19 briefing on Saturday, May 23, 2020, at the state Capitol in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

On Saturday, 163 new coronavirus cases were reported in Arkansas, bringing the total to 5,775 and making up part of what Gov. Asa Hutchinson called a "second peak" of infections in the state.

The state's death toll from the virus rose by two, to 115. The number of hospitalizations rose by five, to 86.

At his news conference Saturday, Hutchinson touted increased testing in the state while pointing to Arkansas' relatively low rates of test positivity, hospitalizations and deaths. The positivity rate has remained about 5%.

"We have improved our early warning system, which is our radar to know where we have cases in Arkansas and how we deal with that," Hutchinson said.

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Increased testing will help make contact tracing -- the method of finding and getting in touch with Arkansans who may have been exposed to the virus to help curtail its spread -- quicker, more responsive and more efficient, the governor added.

To help with technical questions and initiatives related to contact tracing, Hutchinson announced Saturday that he will appoint a technical advisory board. Austin Porter III, the state's deputy chief science officer, will serve as its chairman.

The board will evaluate new technologies being used across the country and make recommendations to the governor. The resources could include an app to assist with contact tracing.

The state saw a record high of 455 new cases Thursday, then 154 more new cases Friday. The past few days' numbers indicate a "second peak," Hutchinson said, with the previous peak occurring about 30 days ago.

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Hutchinson said the numbers reflect the higher level of testing. Still, he urged Arkansans to exercise caution when celebrating the Memorial Day weekend, sharing an anecdote about a recent high school swim party in northeast Arkansas that resulted in new cases.

"We need to be disciplined in our personal safety habits," Hutchinson said. "The increased cases indicate that there's more Arkansans that are out there than we knew about before that are positive and could potentially spread the virus. We need to be aware of that as we go about our daily activities and not be casual."

There were 3,195 tests done in Arkansas in the previous 24 hours, officials said Saturday.

Health Secretary Nate Smith said 54,866 covid-19 tests have been done so far in May, putting the state on track to meet its goal of conducting 60,000 tests this month. The total number of tests that the state has conducted was 105,628 as of Saturday.

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NEW CASES

The two counties with the highest numbers of new cases Saturday were both in Northwest Arkansas.

Benton County had 23 new cases, and 20 new infections were reported in Washington County. At Saturday's news conference, Smith said he did not have all of the details related to those cases, so he could not yet say if they were related to recent cases at a poultry plant in that area. Smith said Friday that there were seven cases at Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers in Benton County.

Smith said Saturday that most of the Benton County cases were in Rogers, and there were at least three family clusters there. In Washington County, most new cases were in Springdale.

"We don't have information at this point whether they're related to poultry plants, but we do know there are communities that are being affected," Smith said.

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Yell and Sevier counties had 17 new cases each, and Pulaski County had 12 new infections. All other counties that reported new cases had fewer than 10.

"We are using this information to focus our testing efforts," Smith said. "We are doing targeted testing."

On Saturday, the Department of Health focused its testing on Springdale, Smith said. On Friday of this week, the department will test in Dardanelle, then in West Memphis, Pine Bluff and De Queen on Saturday. On June 6, testing will focus on Jonesboro, Wrightsville and El Dorado.

"We'll continue to do those extra testing events wherever we see an increased number of cases," Smith said.

Of the 163 new cases overall, three were reported in correctional facilities, Smith said.

Eight additional nursing home residents tested positive, for a total of 358 infected patients in those facilities. There were three new positive tests among nursing home staff members, for a total of 204 infected workers.

Three additional patients were on ventilators as of Saturday afternoon, for a total of 17.

The state had 1,564 active cases as of Saturday and counted 4,096 recoveries.

NEW TECHNOLOGY

Asked about what technology the state might use to advance contact tracing, Hutchinson said there had been some discussions about a mobile application provided by Google. He cited the use of the app in North Dakota but pointed out that there was a low participation rate by the public because of privacy concerns.

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Hutchinson said his technical advisory board would include someone from the state Division of Information Systems to address the privacy aspect. He said he wants to ensure that any data collected will be secure and that residents will feel confident using it.

"As we collect data, we want to make sure that that is protected, as well," the governor said.

The Arkansas Pandemic Unemployment Assistance website is under FBI investigation because applicants' information had accidentally been exposed. The site was shut down May 15. The state is at work on a new website to get the payments out, Hutchinson said Saturday.

The governor said 12,930 unemployment claims have been approved so far, and those payments have been made either by direct deposit or debit card.

Coronavirus daily updates and cumulative covid-19 cases in Arkansas
Loosening restrictions

Metro on 05/24/2020

Print Headline: State reports rise of 163 virus cases

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