IS THE CURVE FLATTENING?: Gov. Hutchinson was hopeful.

An eighth death was reported today as the coronavirus case count rose to 523, up 50 from yesterday, with 64 people hospitalized.

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Three more counties, Columbia, Newton and Perry, joined 48 others with confirmed cases.

The governor produced a chart that illustrates in recent days that efforts to hold down the increase in cases might be working, with the number of cases below the projection the state had made for roughly a four-day span.

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He urged a continuation of the effort to keep a safe distance from others, wash hands and otherwise follow steps to avoid infection.

He said he was concerned by an influx of out-of-state travelers to state parks. Some are coming from hot spots.

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As a result, he said the administration was looking at ways to curtail out-of-state visitors. That may include closing some state parks. He said he was concerned about more than the Buffalo River, to name one place huge crowds have been noted.

He said the state didn’t want to totally “impede commerce across state lines.” But closing some of the attractions that bring people is one way to reduce risk, he said. He’s not ready to consider a checkpoint at border crossings. But you couldn’t pick up just one without checking all of them. “We don’t have the resources to do that level of inspection.”

He said he was awaiting a recommendation from Stacy Hurst on which parks to close.

He responded to a question yesterday about a weekend New York Times report that put Arkansas near the bottom in testing per capita. At that time, the state had done about 1,800 tests. Today, the number is 5,000, he noted. Other states, too, have done more tests, however. He made no mention about where Arkansas stands relative to other states. Today, even Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican, has complained on Twitter about the inability of people to get tests. The materials have been lacking.

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Health Director Nate Smith said 23 people are currently on a ventilator. He said the death was a person older than 65 who lived in Central Arkansas and died at the White River Medical Center. He also said the state was in a “different situation” now on testing, but made no claim relative to a comparison with other states. He acknowledged that testing is lower than they wish.

Smith outlined guidance on going back to work if someone has been sick, but not tested positive — seven days after onset of illness and three days free of fever.

For somebody without symptoms, but exposure to someone infected, a 14-day wait is required. “You’re not doing your colleagues a favor by coming back early.”

Hutchinson also said:

  1. He’d mobilized an additional 40 National Guard members to help respond in various areas of government.
  2. An estimated 30,000 unemployment claims have been filed. He said efforts had been made to improve response, but he knows some are still having frustrating experiences.
  3. He expected to lend all of $3 million put aside for small businesses by next week.
  4. He’s issued an order allowing audio notary witnessing in response to a request from the Arkansas Bar Association.
  5. Still no decision on the April 17 school reopening date. He said the focus currently is on providing alternative education through public television. He called TV a “good remedy,” given broader access versus computer access. He said he expected a decision next week on school reopening. He noted the president’s directive to continue distancing for 30 days, which might make a return to inside classrooms problematic.