Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose by more than 200 on Friday for the second straight day and the number of patients hospitalized with the virus reached a new high.
The state's number of deaths increased by seven, one of the largest one-day increases, bringing its death toll from covid-19 to 132.
The state's tally of cases rose by 239, to 6,777.
Despite the increase, which remained concentrated in Northwest Arkansas, Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst announced that state parks would reopen for camping in tents Monday.
"With the responsibility to keep our facilities clean and safe for visitors and staff, limiting access has been a necessity," Hurst said. "But now we have the [personal protective equipment] needed to protect our employees and a good system in place to feel confident that we can reopen these facilities in a safe manner."
The 239 new cases was the second-highest one-day increase outside of spikes associated with prison outbreaks. Just two of the cases were inmates whose positive test results were announced earlier but not added to the statewide total until Friday.
The largest one-day increase in cases among the state's nonincarcerated population happened Thursday, with the addition of 261 such cases.
Meanwhile, the number of Arkansans hospitalized with the virus rose Friday by nine, to 113. That surpassed the previous record of 109 on April 27.
Twenty-four hospitalized patients were on ventilators, a decrease of three from a day earlier.
At his daily news conference on the pandemic, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he expected people to be outside this weekend and asked them to "carefully socially distance, to set the right example for others, to protect others as well as yourself."
He said the state had taken steps to better enforce public health guidelines after reports of some people who "were not doing the best job of social distancing" at Lake Hamilton over Memorial Day weekend.
"We have talked with the Garland County sheriff's department, their office, as well as the Arkansas Game and Fish [Commission], and they've developed a plan between themselves to support each other in their patrol and activities, to remind people of the importance of social distancing, and particularly if there's any congregations of people that gather together that might endanger the public health," he said.
Hutchinson also said an advisory group of experts from the state departments of Health, Information Systems, Human Services and Commerce and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that he appointed to evaluate technologies for improving testing and contact tracing will meet for the first time Tuesday.
State parks were closed to camping altogether April 3 before being reopened for people staying in recreational vehicles with self-contained bathrooms May 1.
Hurst said parks will open for other types of camping, along with bathhouses "that support campers and our day-use visitors."
Park lodges and cabins, which had been available for rental only on the weekends, can now be rented during the week "with some restrictions to ensure proper cleaning," according to a news release from the state agency.
Hurst noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began opening its campgrounds in the state last week and that Buffalo National River campgrounds opened Friday.
"A reminder to our visitors to be safe, to keep an appropriate physical distance and to wear a mask as needed," she said.
"Now is not the time to gather at the campfire, to congregate at trailheads."
POULTRY WORKERS AFFECTED
The growth in new cases, coming after a previous peak in April and a decline through early May, comes after the state began its first phase of easing restrictions.
Hutchinson and Health Department Secretary Nate Smith said the recent uptick appears to be connected to poultry industry workers, Hispanics and young people, particularly in Northwest Arkansas, rather than visits to hair salons and other businesses that were allowed to reopen.
From Tuesday morning to Friday morning, the number of known active cases, in which someone has tested positive and has not yet recovered, increased by 66 among workers in the poultry industry, according to Health Department reports.
Such cases on Friday morning accounted for at least 286 of the state's 1,699 active cases.
An additional 129 poultry workers who tested positive earlier have recovered.
At least 125 of the workers who have tested positive live in Benton County, including 20 who have recovered.
Yell County had the next highest total, 66, including 20 people who have recovered, followed by Washington County with 65 total cases among workers and 14 recoveries.
Other affected counties include Sevier, with 59 workers who have tested positive, Pope with 24, Carroll with eight and Howard with seven.
By contrast, 28 of the people with active infections across the state had reported visiting a barbershop in the 14 days before the diagnosis, according to the Health Department.
Twenty-five people had been to a restaurant, 13 had been to a church, eight had been to a hotel or motel, six had been to a child care center and five had been to a gym.
Meanwhile, 68 people had been to a heath care provider, such as a doctor or dentist.
HISPANIC CASES UP
From Tuesday to Friday, active infections fell among white and black people but increased by 81 among Hispanics, to 418.
Hispanics, who make up 7.7% of the state's population, as of Friday accounted for 25% of the active cases, up from 20% on Tuesday, according to Health Department reports.
Among Pacific islanders, including the Marshallese, active infections increased by 22, to 95.
Active cases increased among children and people 24 and younger but fell among those 25 to 64.
Among people 65 and older, active cases increased by two, to 223.
At Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers, workers who tested positive, as tracked in Health Department reports, rose by 44 from Tuesday to Friday, to 92.
A Tyson Foods plant in Rogers also has six workers who tested positive, according to the report.
Tyson also has 14 workers at a Clarksville plant and nine at a Dardanelle plant who tested positive, according to the report.
Infections have also been confirmed among 62 workers at Nebo Poultry in Dardanelle, 59 at a Pilgrim's Pride plant in De Queen, 44 workers at a Cargill plant in Springdale and 10 at a Butterball plant in Huntsville.
The number of active infections in Benton and Washington counties this week rose above those in all other counties.
Benton County had the highest number, 288, followed by Washington County with 249, St. Francis County with 171, Pulaski County with 153 and Sevier County with 104.
At his news conference, Hutchinson displayed charts showing that the number of new cases added each day has been increasing in the northwestern and southwestern regions, while falling or staying flat elsewhere.
In the southwest region, made up of 17 counties, the increase has been mostly in Sevier County, which includes De Queen, he said.
"Northwest was spared for the first couple months of this epidemic for our state, but each of these regions is on their own timeline, and I think that is why we're seeing the upswing that we're seeing," Smith said.
Among the cases added Friday, the largest number, 53, were in Washington County.
That was followed by Benton County with 38 new cases, Sevier County with 31, Crittenden County with 21 and Pulaski County with 15.
Smith said the northwestern region, which includes 19 counties, is the only one that has recently had a "consistent increase in hospitalizations."
"Right now we're not close to maxing our hospital capacity, but these are individual lives, and even if someone survives a hospitalization, it can be devastating for them," Smith said.
The Health Department will hold a testing event in Fayetteville from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Washington County Health Unit.
An analysis released Friday showed that the state's Marshallese community has been hit particularly hard, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said in a blog post.
The infection rate among Pacific Islanders was 42.6 per 10,000 residents as of May 9, compared with 25.9 cases per 10,000 residents among blacks and 7.8 per 10,000 residents among whites, the advocacy group said, citing research by a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, released by the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese.
EVICTION MEASURE REJECTED
With rent payments due next week, the American Civil Liberties Union was among 13 renters and civil rights advocacy groups that signed a letter asking Hutchinson for a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs.
Dozens of other states have halted evictions because of the economic insecurity sparked by the health crisis.
Hutchinson has suggested that landlords work with tenants and that tenants who can't make rent reach out to nonprofits for help.
"It's the same response I've given before," he said when asked Friday about a possible ban.
The six-page letter says evictions and utility shut-offs will disproportionately affect women and people of color, who, studies have shown, experience both at higher rates than their white male counterparts.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act has banned evictions from many types of federally backed housing for nonpayment of rent.
The latest virus deaths included the first ones reported in Carroll and Benton counties, the seventh in Washington County and the 25th in Jefferson County.
Pulaski County had three more deaths, raising its toll to 34.
A state website indicated that three deaths were residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities, bringing the total number of such deaths to 55.
In Benton County, Coroner Daniel Oxford said Friday that four people had died of the virus in the past two days, including two Washington County residents.
A 44-year-old Springdale man and a 71-year old Bentonville man died Thursday, Oxford said.
On Friday, a 62-year-old Rogers man and a 92-year-old Springdale woman died of the virus, he said.
Previously, the largest one-day increase in the state's count of virus deaths was May 2, when it rose by nine.
That included six deaths of nursing home residents that had happened earlier but hadn't been properly classified.
The number that were considered active fell by 131, to 1,699.
That reflected 363 people, most of them prison inmates, who tested positive earlier and were newly classified as having recovered.
Active infections fell by 230, to 144, among prison inmates, and rose by two, to 73, among nursing home residents.
Information for this story was contributed by Ginny Monk of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Alex Golden of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 05/30/2020