Saracen Resort Casino, under construction in Pine Bluff.

Quapaw Tribal Business Committee Chairman John Berrey confirmed today that some employees of subcontractors on the Saracen Casino Resort job site in Pine Bluff have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation. Asked if it were more than 10 workers, he said yes, but he declined to say if it were more than 20.

There are more than 1,000 workers on the site, which Berrey called the “cleanest job site in Arkansas.” The interior of the casino has been fogged with disinfectant and otherwise sanitized on two occasions, he said, and everyone on site wears a mask and gloves and is stopped daily at the turnstile entrance for temperature checks and questions on contact. No salesmen or others not connected to the business are allowed on site. “You have to have a badge to get on the job,” Berrey said.

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Those infected with COVID-19 have been employed with only two of the 30 subcontractors on-site, the chairman said. Some of those infected “have not been on the job in a while,” he said.

“If it was a broad spectrum of all our subs, we would probably not be working right now, but since it’s limited to two small groups” work continues, Berrey said. Berrey said both subs and nurses at Jefferson Regional Medical Center informed him of the infections and nurses have called also about contact tracing.

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Berrey noted that workers come from all over the state to the job site, and travel together and share hotel rooms. “The thing about this COVID stuff is that it’s invisible,” he said, and that until there is adequate testing, no one will know the true spread.

Berrey said the positives among the two subcontractors had not had a deleterious impact on the other workers at the site. “Everybody else is anxious to work,” he said. The state closed the Saracen Annex, which opened last year with 300 slots and 300 employees, March 16 in response to the virus; no reopening date had been announced as of Tuesday morning. Those employees have been furloughed, but continue to receive benefits. Until its closing, the Annex provided $110,000 every month in gaming taxes to Pine Bluff and $40,000 monthly to the county, Project Manager Carlton Saffa said.

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“We take this stuff very seriously,” Saffa said. He said Berrey “was in Pine Bluff the day there was the first positive case and within the hour he was in contact with [Arkansas Surgeon General] Greg Bledsoe and [Secretary of Health] Nate Smith.”

Berrey said that due to a rainy spring and the four or five days dedicated to the disinfection of the interior the opening date has been pushed to mid-July. Originally, the casino was to open June 26. He also said it would open “when the governor says it can open.”