Governor Hutchinson held his first weekly briefing on coronavirus today after more than four months of almost daily weekday briefings.

He began the weekly briefing at what seemed a decent time — after several days of lower new COVID-19 case counts. It wasn’t so good after all.

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Cases jumped up by more than 700 in the last 24 hours and the governor also had to announce that the Health Department has adjusted its death toll upward by 139 to include “probable” cases. These are people who didn’t have a confirmed PCR test, but who had a positive antigen test or had coronavirus listed on a death certificate as a contributing cause of death.  This change follows CDC guidelines for state reporting.

The governor said the new deaths don’t indicate an acceleration of deaths, but are an accounting of deaths that occurred over a period of time. A Health Department official agreed that there had not been an “exponential” growth in deaths.

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The daily COVID-19 count

Arkansas recorded 676 new COVID-19 cases confirmed by PCR tests in the last 24 hours, for a total of 70,125. Probable cases added 55 in the last 24 hours, or 731 new cases in 24 hours, for a total of 1,232 in the probable category. Hospitalizations rose by 11 in 24 hours to 389. Deaths rose by 17 to 1,003, not counting the 139 added “probable” deaths.

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Total PCR tests in 24 hours: 5,852

Antigen test results were announced as 188 positive of 880 tests, but the time period wasn’t specified.

Top counties for new cases in the last 24 hours: Washington, 91 (mostly from UA); Pulaski, 71; Benton, 48; Sebastian, 47; Jefferson, 23; Garland, 22; Faulkner, 21, and Craighead, 20.

Other topics and Q&A

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Brian Chilson
SHOWING OFF ANTIGEN EQUIPMENT: Governor Hutchinson today.

The governor touted receipt of antigen testing machines and supplies that allow quick testing and increase capacity by 12,000, about a two-month stockpile. They’ll be distributed around the state, including at hospitals, several colleges and county health units. The governor said this will help with quick turnaround of tests for people in schools in colleges.

Deputy Education Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer said 39 school districts have had to modify in-class instruction in response to virus exposure, with 22 of those ongoing. They range from virtual instruction for a single classroom to a school district that had to go all-virtual this week.

A question was raised about gaps in reporting of cases by colleges and the state. There’s sometimes a delay in reporting to the state and colleges and the state don’t always update on the same days. But Health Director Jose Romero also said there were indications the University of Arkansas was bringing growth of cases under control.