With the case count at 335, including the addition of two more counties with cases and a third death, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and his team updated the coronavirus situation today, including a plan to pump $116 million into health care agencies and workers and some of those bearing burdens in the crisis.
The number hospitalized is rising with 13 on ventilators up from four yesterday, and Health Director Nate Smith said he was working to get precise hospital counts of bed occupancy.
Smith said the third death was in Central Arkansas, but didn’t initially provide more information. A reporter in the news conference suggested the third death was a second from the cluster of cases that arose at a church in Greers Ferry, but Smith said he couldn’t reveal personal information. There have been 47 positive tests in Cleburne County, where the church is located.
He said the state is trying to encourage those who’ve recovered to donate plasma in hopes antibodies against the virus can be collected.
The governor announced a $116 million plan — an expected $91 million to come in federal money — to improve access to hospitals and other medical facilities; to provide more money and health protections to medical workers, and to provide some aid for the sick and families caring for them. Among the key efforts
- The state will make grants to hospitals, doctors, and others for environmental modifications — such as drive-through test sites and isolation areas.
2. The state will also provide money for training and safety measures to protect workers. This could mean extended clinic hours or shifting work hours.
3. The state will provide for the expansion of telemedicine and non-emergency transportation for sick people.
4. The state will provide additional payments to nurses and similar — $1,000 a month for “non-physician direct care workers” and $2,000 for those workers in facilities treating coronavirus cases.
5. Additional payments to facilities with a high percentage of infected people, including homeless shelters.
The governor also mentioned allocations for payments to uninsured people, payments for foster parents taking in children from sometimes unclear circumstances and additional pay to long-term care workers. The payments will be a boon to rural hospitals.
Medicaid director Dennis Smith said the spending was not the usual way of Medicaid financing, a partnership with providers as opposed to a rate structure. It will require approval at the federal level, but Smith said he was hopeful for a “swift and favorable” decision.
UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson said the purchase of millions of masks and surgical gowns and other protective equipment had been arranged and should begin arriving this weekend. The state Department of Emergency Management will oversee allocation of the equipment.
Hutchinson said he was on a conference call with Donald Trump for an hour this morning. He said the focus was on equipment and status of the disease. He’d been asked if the president had pushed for a resumption of economic activity or targeting certain counties for it. If that occurred, it wasn’t while he was on the phone, Hutchinson said.
UPDATE: Since this was published at 3:31 p.m., the state’s number of COVID-19 cases rose by 14, to 349. The hourly change is likely the result in the increase of testing and result turnaround times. However, asymptomatic people, unless they are nursing home residents, are not getting tested.