Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily briefing on coronavirus announced the biggest one-day jump in coronavirus cases since the counting began — 455.

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Of the increase, 229 are prison cases are part of the increase, but big jumps in Yell, Washington, Benton Union County, Craighead, Pope and Pulaski community cases — were also part of the jump. And 226 is the biggest on its own for community cases. Many of the prison cases are not “new,” but cases known earlier at the Forrest City federal prison but not entered in the state database.

The jump in Yell County seems associated with a team of poultry workers who travel to vaccinate poultry, Health Director Nate Smith said.

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The governor also said checks had begun to be sent under the pandemic unemployment assistance program, long-delayed and further delayed last week by a security breach.

Health Director Smith said the case increase was “obviously quite alarming.” But he said it was not “biological,” or sign of some outbreak. He said testing had increased not only in numbers but broader testing that has included some people without symptoms. He saw a bright spot. By identifying new cases, the state can work to “interrupt the chain of transmission” though quarantine.

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The daily coronavirus count

The number of cases in Arkansas rose from 5,003 at midday Wednesday by 455 to 5,458. Hospitalizations rose by seven. Deaths rose by three to 110. More than 2,000 were tested yesterday, with a positivity rate of 4.4 percent. The seven-day rolling average is moving up and, Hutchinson said, “Yes, it is a concern.” He still held out the hope the rise is about increased testing. He took comfort that the positive rate is below the 10 percent benchmark that federal officials say is a cause for heightened concern.

Unemployment benefits

The website to pay people benefits under the new federally financed program for independent workers is “secure and operational,” the governor said. As of noon today, more than 15,000 people had been told by e-mail that they qualified and 5,854 had entered weekly claims. The governor said 3,975 had payments sent out last night and that money, he said, could be in claimants’ account by this evening or tomorrow morning. Almost 2,000 will be sent debit cards with the money.

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What went wrong, the governor was asked. “It’s a complicated process,” he said. “They’re still reviewing it as to exactly what happened.” He said there was obviously a flaw in the system. But he said he wasn’t ready to say what the intent of the person who gained access might have been. “That remains to be seen,” he said.

Announcements

The Crater of Diamond State Park will reopen Friday morning. It will be limited to 500 visitors per day. Physical spacing will be enforced. Tickets may be purchased online.

The governor announced the opening of community and school sports June 1 (not collegiate sports), with a set of rules. They’ll be reviewed further on June 30.

Rules for residential summer camps also have been issued so they may be open. They are very detailed, Smith said, so children may participate without “undue risks.” They may open to campers on May 31. Counselors may begin work a week earlier. The complete guidance is to be released later today.

In questioning, he defended the potential risk. “Life goes on,” he said. “We have to make a living.” But he said the state was being “very careful” in requirements for various activities. If they are followed, “we’re going to be successful in reducing the virus.”

He was asked what he’d tell parents thinking of camp, sports and even school in the fall. The state’s job is to provide guidelines that maximize health, he said, but “individuals are still going to make their decisions.”  They might choose not to participate.

Other topics

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Hutchinson clarified his remarks on absentee voting. He did NOT mean to suggest he’d approve of no-excuse mail absentee votings. He said he supported no-excuse early voting (that’s the law already) but also perhaps more early voting sites and other ways to make it easier to vote early in smaller crowds.

He apparently didn’t understand he’d allowed no-excuse mail absentee voting in the recent primary runoff elections.  “Did I allow that?” he asked. He said he’d have to review it.

But he said mail voting was not on the “front burner.” He said “that’s not the law in Arkansas,” nor is more expansion of early voting or no-excuse mail absentees, which he could authorize by emergency order. He clearly isn’t inclined in that direction.

He said there’s “not broad support” for mail voting. He claimed there were security issues. But he said when he mentioned “absentee” voting with Donald Trump, he meant early voting.

He said he wasn’t ready to commit to legislation to provide civil immunity from lawsuits to business. He said he wants to see the legislation and he wants to hear from the Senate. So far, a letter signed by 23 senators has been the major push beyond the business lobby’s effort to be guaranteed to no legal liability for employers or customers who might be harmed by dangerous practices related to coronavirus.

A Health Department official discussed the inflammatory syndrome that follows COVID-19 in some children. It is serious, but there is a treatable regiment. Deaths have occurred, but they are rare, he said.

Steuart Walton, the Walmart heir who chairs the governor’s recovery task force, spoke. He praised the governor for the “prudent” way he’d handled business issues.

He said the Walton-financed Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville was planning for a  “cautious, slow” approach to reopening. He gave no date.

Hutchinson remarked on his visit to see Donald Trump Wednesday. He said the city was quiet. He lamented the low-income service workers who’ve been impacted. It illustrates his push “to be in business,” he said, “to live, educate and make a living at the same time.”

He was asked about people observing health rules. Hutchinson said he’d gone to a restaurant that was strictly following guidelines, but some customers weren’t wearing masks and he encouraged restaurants to enforce that rule. Steuart Walton said the same. The governor said people shouldn’t go out if they don’t want to follow the rules.