Governor Hutchinson announced at his weekday COVID-19 update that the state has received 100 BD Veritor antigen test machines, fast-result point-of-care platforms that will be sent to health units across the state to assist in testing for students, teachers and other school personnel. Another 100 machines are on order. The testing chemicals have not arrived, but the governor said he hoped the state will receive the complete order plus the kits needed to make them useful in the next three weeks. Tests performed at health units on the 100 BD Veritor machines will be free.
Hutchinson said Vice President Pence had called him Saturday to see what Arkansas needed. The response: An increase in commercial lab testing capacity and speed.
Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero stressed the importance of getting a flu shot this year, and getting it early. “We have a significant number of deaths each year from influenza,” Romero said, and it’s unknown what the “confluence” with COVID-19 will be. Those hospitalized with flu will need ventilators; hospitals don’t need the extra burden of severely ill flu patients on top of COVID-19 patients.
The statistics for today:
787 new cases have been reported over the last 24 hours, higher than the past three days. Of those, six are prison inmates.
Of 242 antigen tests, 40 were probable positives. Those numbers are not added into the state’s total of confirmed positives, done by PCR tests.
There are 6,882 active cases of disease; of the total, 80 are in nursing homes, 392 are in correctional facilities and 6,408 are in the community.
There are 513 Arkansans in the hospital with COVID-19; 108 of them are on ventilators. 11 more deaths have been reported, for a total of 475.
Numbers in the Northeast and Southeast are going up. Numbers in the Northwest, Central and Southwest are down or level.
The county numbers, with ACHI numbers on active cases in larger cities:
Sebastian, 86. (348 active cases in Fort Smith.)
Washington, 66. (136 in Fayetteville; 421 in Springdale.)
Pulaski, 54 (495 in Little Rock.)
Benton, 42 (185 in Rogers.)
Logan, 37 (attributed to testing spike in Paris.)
Independence, 32 (122 in Batesville.)
Garland, 29 (136 in Hot Springs.)
Crittenden, 28 (83 in West Memphis.)
Jefferson, 25 (168 in Pine Bluff.)
Mississippi, 22 (99 in Blytheville.)
Hutchinson said the statewide positivity rate was “at or above 10 percent,” and that “we’ve got to get that number down.”
Romero lauded what he saw in predominately Latinx Southwest Little Rock: multiple signs about the mask mandate in Spanish and a person turned away from a business for not wearing a mask. “Thank you very much,” he said.
The governor was asked if he had a “threshold” of infectivity past which he would back off opening schools this fall. No. Parents have been given the option of virtual education. “Our educators are ready to start school.” He said there are some counties with little rates of infection, but that he was reluctant to do anything but a statewide school opening plan. “If things do not go as planned, we have to be able to make adjustments,” he added.
Other responses to questions from the press:
It’s too early to see if the mask mandate had made a difference in the state’s fight against infection. “It depends on the level of compliance,” Hutchinson said.
As the new vice-chairman of the National Governor’s Association, does he expect the NGA to act as a “counterpoint” to President Trump’s lacking response to the pandemic? He said the NGA would continue its hard work on behalf of the states.
The high number of new cases in Sebastian County, he said, was likely due to “a couple of activities there that were not as good as they should have been.” The Peacemaker Festival in Fort Smith was cited by Alcohol Beverage Control agents for failing to meet masking and social distancing regulations.
He also said it would not be a concern when the University of Arkansas’s students from national hot spots arrive on campus if those who’ve engaged in risky behaviors will test themselves. He said he hoped they’ll act responsibly. “To me, that’s the solution: Put a mask on. Protect others.”
The governor was not asked how contact tracing was going. The Arkansas Times had a question for the state health department this morning on the subject.
The Arkansas Department of Health’s weekly COVID-19 statistical report issued last Friday indicated that only 242 people among the state’s 6,641 active cases had gone grocery shopping in the two weeks prior to diagnosis. The report indicated that the 242 represented 4 percent of active cases, or 6,050.
Health Department spokesman Gavin Lesnik said today the department’s data-gathering method cannot provide the exact number of cases contacted for the day a report is generated, so the real percentage can’t be determined. “The figures are based on the responses from the total active cases listed minus any inmates and minus any cases who have not yet been interviewed,” Lesnik said in an email. He said a “significant” number had been contacted, based on what the tracing team could tell him.
Maybe the other 5,808 are living off the land.
Today’s case report puts the number of folks who’ve gone to the grocery store at 263.