The latest count shows 62 confirmed coronavirus cases in Arkansas and, as a result, the state announced new restrictions to slow the spread, including a three-week extension of on-site school closings and an end of on-site restaurant service.
Nine counties were added to the list of confirmed cases, making 20. Jefferson, Pulaski and Cleburne have 10 or more. With 146 people being tested and 509 being monitored, the toll is likely to rise.
The majority of new cases were adults, but two children are infected, Health Director Nate Smith said. Only “two or three” people are hospitalized. He said he didn’t have a current number.
The increase is not a surprise, the governor said, but a product of more testing.
“It is clear to me we do have community spread,” Hutchinson said. There’s more than the one previously acknowledged. He had resisted the moves taken today in hopes of keeping business going as close to normal as possible. Now the state is moving aggressively, he said.
K-12 schools will remain closed an additional three weeks, until April 17, when health conditions will be re-evaluated. Education should continue through alternative methods. “It is important we not erase this time period from educational instruction,” Hutchinson said.
State employees will do business by telecommuting and on-site work, but on-site work will be limited to those “necessary for the important functions of government”
Hospitals, clinics and mental health facilities are mandated to screen staff and visitors with or temperature and symptoms.
Bars and restaurants are now directed to close for dine-in service but are allowed to be open for carryout and drive-through and delivery. Here’s the emergency rule change on alcohol. It specifies spirts may not be sold by restaurants, though mixers and setups can be. IMPORTANT UPDATE: The emergency rule encourages drive-through service at liquor stores but ALLOW DELIVERY OF LIQUOR to customers.
Those licensed to sell alcohol may sell corked or sealed bottles of wine and beer with food, including on deliveries.
Indoor facilities such as gyms are closed to non-essential functions.
He said the state was trying to reduce the risk of community spread and exposure, particularly of the vulnerable population.
The measures will take place until further notice.
He encouraged businesses to move to telecommuting, video conferencing and remote work wherever possible. They should screen staff and visitors and enforce social distancing. They also should plan for the future with continuity of operation plans, he said.
He also issued this general advice, though not a mandate:
Older people should stay home to the extent possible.
All should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
Use drive-through and carryout restaurants, a good health measure and good for business to continue.
Avoid unnecessary trips.
Enjoy walking, hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities consistent with social distancing.
Don’t visit nursing homes and similar facilities unless providing critical assistance.
He said he was mindful of religious freedom, but encouraged churches to follow his general advice and find creative ways to deliver messages and minister to congregations as he’s urged businesses to do.
UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said his campus drive-through screenings are on the rise and about 25 percent of them have called for further testing for the virus.
Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe, in detailing efforts to obtain respirator masks for health workers and other vital equipment, said the state was now in “hand-to-hand combat and trench warfare.”
Businesses were encouraged to screen employees, emphasize hand-washing and preventive lotions and space employees to the extent possible.
Education Secretary Johnny Key said the state wasn’t certain about when and if standardized testing would proceed.
Hutchinson urged landlords and utility companies to be compassionate if bills aren’t paid but said that was a private-sector decision.
He was asked about the ACLU call to release low-risk and unconvicted prisoners who couldn’t pose bail. Without directly saying no, he indicated the answer was no. He said the state had moved to have safer conditions in prisons. He said he wasn’t aware of a problem with overcrowding. He said the Board of Correction had emergency powers if there was a need to take action.