GOOD TRAJECTORY: A decline in the positive rate among those tested for coronavirus.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s coronavirus update today included an additional nine deaths, including the first two deaths of prison inmates.

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The case count

Confirmed cases were up 51 from yesterday’s midday report to 3,372. Four of those were from the federal prison in Forrest City. Hospitalizations are up by 5 to 100. Deaths increased by nine to 73.  Three were in the last 24 hours and two of those were prison inmates. Six are nursing home deaths not previously classified as related to the virus.

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He said there were 1,521 tests in the last 24 hours.

Hutchinson, in talking of prison deaths, said the total population had dropped by more than 380, which should provide more space for separating inmates. In response to a question about complaints about conditions in the prison and lack of sufficient food, Hutchinson insisted they were getting proper care. He said they are “fed” and getting the medical care and hygiene products they need. An ACLU federal lawsuit argues that’s not true.

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He didn’t identify the inmates who died when asked if they were eligible for early release. He said they were inmates in the Maximum Security Unit, which indicates they were held for violent crimes. The Department of Corrections added little information:

Late on  Friday, May 1, 2020, and early in the morning on Saturday, May 2, 2020, two inmates were pronounced dead at Jefferson Regional Medical Center. Both inmates were undergoing treatment for COVID-related symptoms. One of the inmates was on a ventilator at the time of his death. Both inmates were in their 60s and serving Life Sentences. The Division of Correction will continue to coordinate with the Department of Health while responding to COVID-19.

Within all entities of the Department of Corrections, there are currently 858 inmates, and 65 employees , under a COVID-related quarantine.

The governor also emphasized today a new positive metric, a fairly steady decline in the positive rate among tests. “We like the trajectory,” he said.

Churches

New guidelines are coming Monday about suggested guidelines for churches and large venues. Churches haven’t been ordered to do anything by the state, only encouraged.

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Protective gear

Officials touted the state’s adequate supply of protective gear. This as the state is arguing that a potential shortage of this equipment is one reason why elective abortions must be limited to the point of effective prohibition.

Barber and beauty schools

They, too, are now included in the order issued last week that will allow salons and barbers to resume business, with health restrictions, Wednesday.

Optometrists

A guidance document is being finalized for return to work and should be posted early next week.

Unemployment

“There are still challenges there,” Hutchinson said in response to a question about continuing complaints. But he said there are still delays, which he put down in part to continuing new claims. Also, people need to be sure “they use the system right.” He blamed frustration in part on people seeking benefits for independent contractors that aren’t available yet. “We hope it goes online the first part of next week,” he said. He again alibied that the state had to build a new system for these claims. At least 21 states are paying. Mississippi went online at least a week ago.

Is there a safety net for people who go back to work in restaurants with reduced business and, thus, less tipping income? “It’s not the ideal circumstance,” Hutchinson said. He hoped people would tip generously. But if severs are called back to work, they must work, or lose unemployment benefits. He said perhaps owners would make staff reductions on account of the limit on occupancy.

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Shopping malls

They’ve reopened this weekend, though the state never ordered them closed. “It’s a matter of consumer confidence,” Hutchinson said. If you shop, wear a mask, socially distance and follow shop guidelines, he urged. “I hope we get out, I hope we spend money. But I want to make sure we follow these guidelines.” Health Director Nate Smith said six-foot distancing was particularly important and avoiding touching.

The future

Hutchins noted that some health experts had said problems from the virus could continue, or worsen, in the fall. He said whatever happened the state was making strides towards being prepared and still encouraging care in observing contact guidelines.

Nate Smith said the 1918 influenza epidemic lasted two years, with a rebound. But he said, “This is not the flu and this is not 1918.” But he said, “We need to be prepared to deal with this for some time.” Arkansas is not an island, he said, but surrounded by states with higher incidences of the virus.